Random Thoughts

GOD IN THE WILDERNESS

I have been soaking in this quote by Henri Nouwen: “God is not just our good inclinations, our fervor, our generosity, or our love.  All such experiences of the heart may remind us of God’s presence, but their absence does not prove God’s absence.” Nouwen is reminding us that our faith is often based on how we feel at the moment. We “feel God’s presence” when we feel happy or “blessed,” or useful. But we wonder where God is when we don’t feel happy or blessed and especially when we feel the  sad or beat up or alone.

Richard Rohr continually reminds us that God is in our suffering because God suffers, too. In the final scene in Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ‘s setting of the crucifixion, the camera abruptly and swiftly pulls up to reveal an overhead view of the cross – and a tear drop falling from the sky and splashing near the cross. Earlier in the scene, Jesus cries, “My God, why have you forsaken me?”  Recalling this scene when we are lonely or sad or in pain might help us feel God’s presence while we travel a wilderness of pain or troubled feelings.

FINDING SHINGIRO

Part 1

My son Kelly McFall is a college history professor history and head of the Honors College at Henry Newman University in Wichita, Kansas. For years he has been experimenting with writing, testing, and publishing semester – long academic games to give his students an experiential knowledge of the history they are study. Students assume the roles of historical characters and practice critical think- ing, primary source analysis, and argument, both written and spoken. His first published game, The Needs of Others, Human Rights, International Organizations, and Interventions in Rwanda, 1994, focused on the genocide in Rwanda, which has been his passion for years. 

This spring he traveled for two weeks with a Presbyterian Church – sponsored group to Rawanda where he visited memorial sites, traveled the countryside, and met with groups of Rawandans.  He even sat in on a reconciliation session between Hutu and Tutsis family who have been ravaged by the civil strife in Rawanda.  He was overwhelmed! He speaks in awe of the strength and resilience of these people and the power of their  attempts to forgive each other.

Part 2

One of the consequences of my retirement was the letting go, one by one, of the sponsorship of five teen-agers whom I have supported through Compassion International since they were ten or eleven. I corresponded with them six or seven times a year and received fascinating letters in return. When I called Compassion to release the last one, I was told that if I could no longer support a child financially, I could support one through correspondence. Evidently some sponsors can afford the financial commitment, but not the commitment to write letters.  I was surprised at this option and agreed immediately.

Yesterday I got a newsy packet in the mail about  my new “pen pal” – a 16-year-old boy.  I was reminded of what an awe -inspiring task it is encourage and influence the life of a young man a world and a culture away from me!  And I was overwhelmed to learn that he lives in RAWANDA!   

Conclusion – Our God, the Great Orchestrator, has a plan! 

“NUMB AND DUMB”

During the past year, I have been in groups, eager to be formed spiritually, where deep anger over our president’s moral vacuum, lies, and vicious actions takes over the conversation. Invariably that anger turns to guilt and confusion: “How do I get rid of this anger?” we say. “I wake up to it in the morning and go to sleep with it at night.”

Parker Palmer feels our pain!  He is as angry as any one of us. He devotes an entire chapter  “Staying Engaged with the World” in his new book, On the Brink of Everything to the anger and desperation we feel about the political atmosphere in America.  He remarks that we must be angry with the “assaults on almost everything we hold near and dear” or else we will become “numb and dumb.”  But he warns us not got get “hooked on anger.”  We can’t be “addicted to an emotion that gives [us] a fleeting high but leaves [us] feeling worse all the while robbing [us] of well-being and creating an insatiable desire for the next hit.”  Palmer says  “Being hooked saps me of energy and harms my health.  Worse, still it diverts me from taking personal responsibility for what ‘s going on right now.”  

How do we make our anger useful, rather than being hooked to an addiction?  Palmer encourages us to use that anger to find our voice, to find our place of service, and also to recognize our participation (perhaps unrecognized) in the underlying problems in the United States that have given rise to a man like Donald J. Trump becoming president. Parker says that we have to come to terms with “our complicity in white privilege and the injustice and inhumanity that flow from it.” Having been on this journey since I met my African-American husband nearly thirty years ago, I strongly agree with him. I also strongly recommend his discussion of this issue to all who are filled with righteous anger and despair.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , , , , ,

The Sacred in the Mundane

This week has been full of one of my least favorite duties:  running errands. This task has been complicated by my diminishing energy and poor balance. Both of these are improved by the use of a walker, which I usually choose to leave in the car rather than wrestling with it or even worse chasing it around parking lots because I forgot to set the brakes.  

This morning, after three days of pushing myself to get out of the house and GET THINGS DONE!, I really had to talk myself into a fourth day on the road, once again running in and out of places I mostly didn’t want to be in. After breakfast, I complained so much to my husband about the many places I needed to go that he was guilted into asking if I wanted him to go with me. “No,” I said. “That’s not necessary.” I heard him sigh in relief as I limped out the door.

My first stop was the Meijer pharmacy down the street, which I usually visit a few times a week. This time my job was to persuade someone to allow me to purchase a blood pressure medication for my husband with cash (rather than using insurance). I had been told  on May 13 that it couldn’t be filled until May 30.  However, he is already out of them. Since I administer his meds, I know I had not given out too many.  My theory was that someone had put only 30 instead of 60 in the bottle the last time it had been filled.)

So I walked rather tentatively up to the counter and asked the young lady at the computer, (who I knew was just a week or so past her training) if this could be done. She cheerfully attempted the task . . . . and finally said she couldn’t override the May 30 date; I would have to call the insurance company. I sighed and said I didn’t want to argue with the insurance company over $13. 44.  She smiled sympathetically and stared at the computer some more. I was about to leave when she smiled an even bigger smile and said, “I’ll put it as a cash transaction!!!  Do you want me to get started on that now?”  What a dear child!  I was so relieved that I left in a slightly better mood.  Blessing #1.

I moved on to a task I had failed to complete twice before: finding a desperately needed pair of slacks. Fortunately, as I went individually through the tags on about 30 pairs of slacks, I found ONE that was my size. I grabbed it and a shirt that I also needed and went to the dressing room.  Wonder of wonders, they both fit.  Blessing #2!!

I walked to the checkout lanes and found only one lane open in a store that must cover acres. Seven people were ahead of me. I struck up a conversation with the woman in front of me about how checkout lines are always an exercise in patience for me. She laughed and said, “I never pray for patience because God always brings situations like this to test me.” We chatted as the line slowly shortened.

By this point my back was really hurting. I mentioned that I should have brought my walker in so I could sit while waiting. She looked down at my cart. “You go first,” she offered. “I have many more items than you do.” At that point, it became her turn. I finally accepted her offer, determined to get through as fast as possible. I had everything ready, the sales person was efficient, and my checkout took about two minutes.  As I left, I thanked her again. Blessing #3!!!

My next stop was about 20 minutes away. The day before, a person I have known for nearly 20 years in a professional capacity, who is also caring for a sick husband, told me that the VA had just given him a new inhaler prescription. He asked her to look for someone to give his unopened Symbicort inhalers to. She offered them to me. I hesitated because they might not be the exact prescription but made arrangements  to pick them up today – which I did. When I got home, I saw that they are exactly the same inhalers that Fred uses.  Blessing  #4!!!!

The library was my next stop. I was excited to pick up a brand new mystery which I had put on hold. Three times I tried to check the book out. Three times the system said it couldn’t process my account.  Just as I was trying for a fourth time, a librarian appeared.  She said that the system had been shutting down all day.  She typed exactly what I had, but she must have had a magic touch, because it worked for her. Blessing #5 !!!!!

After a stop at the bank, I had come full circle.  As I drove in the Meijer parking lot and got in the drive-through lane to pick up Fred’s prescription, I was so hoping that there would be no glitch. The same young woman waited on me, and it was music to my ears to hear her say, “Here you are. I’ll put your change in the bag.” I thanked her again for making this important medication available for my husband

As I drove home, I thought about all of the holy moments I had experienced in these two hours. In the midst of my routine, mundane tasks, I had been blessed with several small but meaningful acts of kindness; several people had acted like Jesus. As an ever – learning Apprentice of Jesus, I was reminded again to look for evidence of his care and protection in every boring or difficult task I encounter.  If I do that, these tasks can become blessings.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , | 1 Comment

From My Reading

“Though the light has come into the world people have preferred darkness to light because their deeds were evil. And indeed, everybody who does wrong hates the light and avoids it, to prevent his actions from being shown up; but whoever does the truth comes out into the light, so that what he is doing may plainly appear as done in God” (Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“The Resurrection unhinges the assumption that this world is something we leave behind. Instead, Easter promises that what God does in the resurrection of Jesus is God’s intention for the entire creation. The Resurrection contradicts the assumption that Christ resides on an ethereal cloud in a distant heaven. Rather, we find him on the dusty road that leads to the real stuff of our ordinary world. If our eyes are open to see him, we can find him everywhere!” (James A. Harnish, Easter Earthquake)

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“Brothers and sisters, if we don’t believe that every crucifixion—war, poverty, torture, hunger—can somehow be redeemed, who of us would not be angry, cynical, hopeless? No wonder Western culture seems so skeptical today. It all doesn’t mean anything, it’s not going anywhere, because we weren’t given a wider and cosmic vision of Jesus’ resurrection. Easter is not just the final chapter of Jesus’ life, but the final chapter of history. Death does not have the last word” (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, April 21, 2019)

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“The Greek word traditionally translated “desert” or “wilderness” is erémos, and it doesn’t mean hot and dry. It means uninhabited, lonely, with no human population. The erémos is a desolate location, whatever may be the reason for its desolation. The word can even be applied to people, in the sense of being without friends or supporters, or simply solitary. In a word, it means deserted. . . .

[In] a sense everyone who has chosen the life of commitment to God has chosen the desert. Even if we have not entered a convent or a hermitage, once we have decided to love God ‘with all our heart, and with all our soul, and with all our mind, and with all our strength’ (see Mark 12:30), we have subordinated everything that we have and are to the will of God. The glad realization that God is worthy of an all-embracing sacrifice brings with it the sobering reality that we will be called upon to make that sacrifice … enter the desert way.

The truth is that we must simply learn to live in the desert, must try to remain oriented toward God as we go on through the misery. The divine presence is not the way out of the desert, it is the way through the desert. Remain attentive to God, stay utterly dependent on God – this is the lesson of the desert” (David Rensberger, adapted from the Upper Room Blog,  Adapted from Weavings: A Journal of the Christian Spiritual Life, May/June 2001.)

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“There are two ways to be fooled.  One is to believe what isn’t true.  The other is to refuse to believe what is true” (Soren Kierkegaard).

♦  ♦  ♦  ♦  ♦

“At times our evangelical fervor has come at the cost of spiritual formation. For this reason,  we can end up with a church full of believers, but followers of Jesus can be hard to come by” (Shane Claiborne quoted by Richard Rohr in Daily Meditation, Jan. 22,  2019).

Posted in Quotes | Tagged , ,

So Be New!

Did you ever have the experience of walking through your home filled with your favorite things and suddenly noticing something you have not really paid attention to for ages?  That delightful surprise happened to me this week when I noticed an etched glass plaque given to me by the wife of an intern I had supervised in my role as Director of Spiritual Formation. Part of Cody’s responsibilities were to participate in and then teach the Apprentice of Jesus curriculum created by James Bryan Smith.* His wife joined him in this adventure.

Etched on the glass and surrounded by a bright white frame were the lyrics of a song with which we closed every session of every class of every year of that life-changing program: So be a New and Different Person. She had created it as a thank you when she and her husband left to serve their own church hundreds of miles away.  Here are the words to that song: 

So be a new and different person,

filled with his love,

and filled with his Holy Spirit

with a freshness and a newness in all the things you do

so be new!

I carried the etching into another room, sat at my work table, and read it over and over again.  As I did, the experience of singing that song with fellow West Michigan Apprentices of Jesus during classes, conferences, and celebrations flooded over me. The words that reverberated for me now were the same words that filled my heart when I first heard the song.  I was being directed by the Holy Spirit to live with freshness and newness; I was to become a new and different person,

The words hit home – hard.  2919 has already been difficult. My husband’s illnesses, the devastating cost of medications, the political atmosphere in the US and world-wide, my decreasing mobility – all have pummeled my spirit. It is now time to live with freshness and newness. It is time to allow the Holy Spirit to make me a new person – one filled with hope, not despair, with joy not sadness, with peace, not turmoil, with spiritual energy, not exhaustion.  

So, let’s be new! 

_____

* The Apprentice of Jesus program is based on three books by James Bryan Smith:  The Good and Beautiful God, The Good and Beautiful Life, and The Good and Beautiful Community, published by InterVarsity Press.  I highly recommend them – as would the more than 200 participants in the program at Christ Memorial Church in Holland, Michigan if you had the chance to ask them how their lives have been transformed.

 

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Praying a Penitential Psalm

“The Psalms express everything we are capable of experiencing: exuberant praise and reverent meditation, but also questioning, doubt, victimization, lament, pain, penitence, and repentance. Most of them, two-thirds in fact, are prayed by men and women in trouble of one kind or another. Of these the early Christian  community early on designated seven of them as ‘penitential,’ prayers prayed out of a sense of need and inadequacy. These are prayers prayed by those who ‘don’t have it all together,’ prayers prayed out of shame and sorrow for sin.” (Eugene Peterson, The Way of Jesus).

Here is a way to pray  when guilt or shame crowd your soul: 

  • Choose one of the following penitential Psalms: 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, 143
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to reveal what you need to hear.
  • Read the Psalm all the way through with a listening spirit.
  • Then read more slowly, highlighting or underlining any word or phrase that seems to pop out.
  • Reflect on a word or phrase that pops out at you.  Ask, “How are you revealing yourself to me.  What am I to see and understand?”
  • Pray about what you have learned – express your gratitude, confession, lament, relief or praise.
  • Think about how you are being called to obey. How is this encounter with God changing you?

Continue your daily activities (or sleep peacefully) knowing that God understands and forgives.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , ,

Where is our Moral Compass?

A redacted version of the Mueller report was recently released exposing to careful readers a multitude of attempts to obstruct the Mueller investigation and to mis- characterize its conclusions. The controversy around that report reminded me of this post, published on February 22, 2017. Unfortunately, questioning our moral compass is just as pertinent today.

A PBS story about Rachel Carson, new information about my father’s participation in WWII, and a comment about evangelical Christians in Sojourner came together in a “perfect storm” in my mind.  Here is the result.

Rachel CPHOTO: Rachel Carsonarson (1907-1964) combined her love for nature and biological research with a gift of lyrical writing. Embedded within all of her writing was the view that human beings were but one part of nature distinguished primarily by their power to alter it, in some cases irreversibly. Disturbed by the profligate use of synthetic chemical pesticides after World War II, Carson felt called to warn the public about the long-term effects of misusing pesticides. She published her research and counsel  in the book Silent Spring (1962). The book challenged the practices of agricultural scientists and the government, calling for a change in the way humankind viewed the natural world. As word of her research spread, she fought two simultaneous and courageous battles:  one against the breast cancer which took her life in 1964 and one against the attacks by the chemical industry and some in government, who called her an alarmist and tried mightily to discredit her research.

 This tiny woman with a brave voice was one of the first to sound an alarm and remind us that we are a vulnerable part of the natural world subject to the same damage as the rest of the ecosystem – and the ecosystem must be saved if we are to be saved. She changed the way we look at the world.

My father, the Rev. Rowland Koskamp (1916 – 1945), left the church he had served for two years in Raritan, N.J. to volunteer as an Army chaplain during WWII. He was attached to a medical unit. Twice (that we know about) during his nearly three years of service he refused to leave the wounded he was serving. The first time was after the fight for St. Lo, when the Germans “threw everything they had at us with good effect.”  He writes that “a lot of men needed to brought out of the woods for treatment” but that the woods were considered too “hot” to go after them.  He persuaded an ambulance driver to bring him and some litter-bearers into the woods and “[we] “went about our business.” He received the Bronze Star for this action.

Three weeks later during the Battle of the Bulge, he, two of his aides, and some wounded men they were treating hid in a schoolhouse in an area that was supposed to be free of the Germans. They were caught off guard when a German tank repeatedly attacked the house, destroying it (It turns out that  a jealous American officer refused to tell the commander of this group of soldiers that the Germans were on the move.)

My father came up out of the basement and negotiated a surrender with a German officer, rather than risking the deaths of all in the house. The group was put in boxcars (half the size of American boxcars) with 3,000 other captured soldiers, 60 men in a car. The train eventually attracted American bombers. The German guards ran away. Some men locked in the boxcars were killed. My father escaped this friendly fire, but after several months in a POW camp, he was killed by another American bombing raid on a train as he and other liberated American prisoners were walking to freedom. Two weeks later the war ended.  

I thought about these two stories, similar only in their display of bravery and moral fortitude in the face of brutal attack, when I read the following statement by Lisa Sharon Harper in the March, 2017 issue of Sojourner:

“I hail from a theological tradition that places the highest value on epistemology, the study of how we think about God, yet invests little energy on ethics, the study of how we are called to interact in the world  . . . .  Here is the question that  haunts me: Has the Trump presidency revealed evidence of a truth we [white evangelicals] have not wanted to see?  That the one who said “I am the way?” (ethics), “the truth” (epistemology), and the
life” (shalom) is increasingly irrelevant in evangelical America.”

This week I heard the moderator of a political talk show ask, “Has America lost its moral compass?” In the era of “Make America Great Again,” racial, religious, and cultural bashing, and seemingly unrepentant lying from our highest officials (a model of behavior demonstrated by the president himself) what is our anchor?  I think the debate about our moral compass should top the list of sermon topics, become the focus Bible study groups, and find its way onto the agendas of all American churches.

Jesus Christ gave a clear moral compass and a soul – stirring model for his disciples to follow. Do we know what he taught? Do we remember how he interacted with his world? Do we care? Do we have the moral courage to stand up for others the way that Rachel Carson and Rowland Koskamp (and many others) have done? What would that look like for each of us?  When the chaos and the lying and the mudslinging get us down, the only thing we can do is stand up and be counted. 

_____

For more information about my father, Rowland Koskamp, go to this earlier post.

 

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , ,

Buying $3 Worth of God

I was hopscotching through some of my early posts the other day when I found this quote:

“I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please, not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep, but just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine. I want ecstasy, not transformation; I want warmth of the womb, not a new birth. I want a pound of the Eternal in a paper sack. I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please” (Wilber Rees in Leadership, Vol. 4, No. 1).

First, I just sat back in amazement. What beautiful, lyrical, saber-like writing! Then I sat in conviction! How often am I satisfied with $3 (or even $1.99) worth of God. Do I even think about asking for a $1,000,000 worth of God?  Do I really want God to open the heavens and pour himself out on me? If not, why not? Am I afraid of an “exploded soul? Do I worry how much responsibility asking for more and more of God will bring?

And what is an “exploded soul?” A soul that is filled with so much of God that it bursts its self-created seams?  I recently read the words of Stephen, “a man full of God’s grace and power, that he spoke to the Sanhedrin.  His soul exploded – and he was stoned for it.  Paul’s soul exploded when he saw the Living Lord in a vision  – and he ended up in prison. John’s grew and grew and finally exploded at the feet of the cross and at the sight of a risen Christ – and he ended up alone and in exile.

Martin Luther King’s mission to expose racism and achieve justice was ended by a bullet. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German theologian and pastor, joined the plot to kill Adolph Hitler and was sent to an extermination camp and hung after the plot was discovered,  A. J. Muste, peace activist, gave up everything for his cause – all of these men experienced the exploding soul. This is not to say that all who give their souls completely to God have tragic endings.  But it does force the question: What about  me?  Am I choosing warm milk and snoozing the sunshine? Or am I available to give so much of myself to God that my soul will explode?

And what about transformation and new birth? How often am I on the brink one or both and turn back because it’s warmer in the womb?  How often am I called to change myself or my world but choose not to disturb my “sleep” – my comfort zone.

Finally, how often do I operate under the well-disguised illusion that I can “buy” a piece of God? Attempts to buy God may include stellar church attendance or tithing or careful attention to looking pure or holy or even being involved in service to others. What temperament do I try to create to make God love me more? What does it cost to purchase a cup of grace or unconditional love or approval?

What can I do to atone for a miserly attitude toward God? How do I gain courage to move from bartering with God to asking for a soul full of God? Perhaps practicing surrender or detachment can lessen the fear of God answering prayers for his presence. Perhaps practicing listening will make hearing less difficult. Perhaps immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus will teach us what it means to live in anticipation and acceptance of everything God wants to give.

Posted in Living as Apprentices | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From My Reading

“I so much want you to be with me. I so much want you to be close to me. I know all your thoughts. I hear all your words. I see all your actions. And I love you because you are beautiful, made in my own image, an expression of my most intimate love. Do not judge yourself. Do not condemn yourself. Do not reject yourself. Let my love touch the deepest, most hidden corners of your heart and reveal to you your own beauty, a beauty that you have lost sight of, but that will become visible to you again in the light of my mercy. Come, come, let me wipe your tears, and let my mouth come close to your ear and say to you, ‘I love you, I love you, I love you.’ “(Henri Nouwen, You are the Beloved).

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦  

“[Jesus] did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie (Richard Rohr, Daily Meditation, April 14, 2014).

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦  

“When we learn to fall, we learn that only by letting go our grip on all that we ordinarily find most precious—our achievements, our plans, our loved ones, our very selves—can we find, ultimately, the most profound freedom. In the act of letting go of our lives, we return more fully to them. (Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall, The Blessings of an Imperfect Life).

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦  

“We must imitate His life, we must let it all the way into ours, absorbing His eternal action and recreating it in our actual living. This principle of absorption, intrinsic in the act of imitation, is crucial. Because virtue isn’t learned like an academic discipline. We learn virtue like we learn to ride a bicycle, not by someone lecturing on balance or memorizing some formulas of forward motion. But by being given a little push, by being held as we get the pedals round, by being lifted up when we fall down—and then repeating that process over-and-over. That’s how we learn virtue, in relationship, in collaboration, or to put in the words of our Christian ancestors, by imitation “(jonathan@jonathanrbailey.com).

♦    ♦    ♦    ♦    ♦  

“As Christians committed to social justice, we are not called to merely put our fingers in the air to detect which way the wind is blowing, as so  many politicians and candidates do. We are called instead to change the wind” (Jim Wallis in Sojourner, May, 2019).

Posted in Quotes | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments