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Category: Soul Keeping

The Preacher’s Lament

“Surely I have labored in vain and spent my strength for nothing…” (Isaiah 49:4) Luther calls this the “preacher’s lament.” When God called Isaiah He gave him the hard job of hardening. God told him at the outset that telling the truth would have the effect of blinding and deafening his own people. “See and see and not perceive, hear and hear and not understand.” (Isaiah 6:9) Isaiah’s youthful response to that call was, “Here am I Lord, send me,” but after decades of work, in effect, Isaiah asks, “Did I really say that? What was I thinking? When God called, why didn’t I just hang up?” Isaiah, great prophet though he was, faltered in self-doubt. He had nourished the hope of…

Died Still Climbing

The Christian story is not one watershed experience (or two for Wesleyans) (or three for some Pentecostals) followed by coasting downhill to the grave. Father Angelus Shaughnessy tells a story of the monks (inventors of the St. Bernard rescue dog) who guard the dangerous St. Bernard Pass through the Alps between Italy and Switzerland. The monks once discovered a traveler frozen in the snow with one leg raised as though still climbing. With no other identification, the monks buried him, with the epitaph “died still climbing.” Often I hear this term of dismissal applied to churches, “it was all old people,” as though old people are useless and expendable. (The mentality that terminates unwanted life in the womb, should be…

“Make your home in the land and be secure…” (Psalm 37:3)

Author Wendell Berry writes about the difference between “movers and stickers”. The challenges of pioneering pale compared to homesteading in the same way that starting something is always easier than seeing something through. Anybody could stake a claim out west. It took grit to hold on long enough, and make enough improvements, to satisfy the homestead law and keep the land. The cowboy life of big ranches and open range was always more romantic, but according to that former-cowboy-turned-president, Teddy Roosevelt, the homesteaders won the West.  “… the homesteaders, the permanent settlers, the men who took up each his own farm on which he lived and brought up his family, these represented from the national standpoint the most desirable of…

Keep the Inside the Good Side

My favorite TV show is Blue Bloods, but I want Tom Selleck — (no relation, but we can pretend) — to fire that spin doctor Garrett. Yet for the scriptwriters to toss him would assault the self-image of journalists as kingmakers – no way could Hollywood opt for that. Image management has become axiomatic for success. It seems the best we can hope for is that the Commissioner’s integrity will keep Garrett’s duplicitous role uncomfortable. The Serpent was the first spin doctor. He made the forbidden fruit look good. Then those early consumers (Generation A’s?) followed his example by repackaging themselves. In contrast, God cares not at all for appearances, only character. What a contrast history provided in 1997 when…

Unpromising Beginnings

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid … our faces from him; he was despised and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3) “New beginnings this or that” seems to be a much more popular term for organizations than “starting over …” and I think I know why. “Starting over” is loaded with connotations of grief, sorrow, frustration, discouragement, and loss. “New beginnings” is all cheery, plastered with a perpetual smiley face. My new beginnings show up like this picture. On one of my starting-over-days, almost 30 years ago, I visited an elderly parishioner, Alice Schaeffer. Alice was among the first graduates of the first sociology program in the country at my…