Oct 30, 2010

All Saints—A Day to Remember

All Saints Sunday means more and more to me as more and more of my friends on this side of the sod are now “the dearly departed.” My friend in Nebraska who is still kicking, Dan Flanagan, once wrote in a sermon about a wonderful book that has merit—especially on a day like All Saints Sabbath.

Dan wrote a decade or so ago about a book, Saints, Sinners, and Beechers, in which Lyman Beecher Stowe tells the story of an occasion when Thomas K. Beecher substituted for his famous preacher brother Henry Ward Beecher at the Plymouth Church in Brooklyn. Many people in the congregation had come to hear the renowned Henry Beecher preach. When Thomas Beecher appeared in the pulpit, some of the people started for the door. Sensing their disappointment, Thomas Beecher raised his hand for silence and said, “All those who came here this morning to worship Henry Ward Beecher may withdraw from the church, and all those who came to worship God may remain.”

Of course, when we worship on All Saint’s Sabbath we do not worship any individual but rather we are here to remember that “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1). We worship to remember those saints who have given us a model by which to live out our Christian faith. It is our prayer that the memory of those saints who have gone before us will help each of us become more faithful to the covenant that God has cut with us.

God wants each one of us in the covenant fold, but God simply invites—God does not coerce, force, or threaten, that is if one understands that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16). I like the story that Karl Stegall tells of two brothers who entered the first grade in 1991. One said he was born on January 1, 1984. The other brother said he was born on April 4, 1984.

“That is impossible,” said the teacher. “No,” replied the first brother, “one of us is adopted.”

“Which one?” asked the teacher.

“I don’t know,” he replied. “One day I asked my mother and she kissed us both and said, ‘I forgot.’ ”

Perhaps this is the method by which we become saints. God kisses us all and forgets which ones of us are adopted and which ones of us are naturals.

Oct 16, 2010

The Gathering

Several years ago a family called on me to celebrate a funeral service for their grandmother who once attended the church I pastored. Her health, however, had forced her to move several states away so that her family could care for her in her nursing home. I did not know the woman as she moved from our town over twenty years ago. The family offered modest assistance in helping me prepare an appropriate word for her life. Then a granddaughter remembered that the deceased woman’s Bible was in the car. She asked me if the Bible might help me to prepare. As you would expect, I said, “Yes.”

That evening, as I looked at her old and tattered Bible, I realized that I had a much better portrait of this woman’s life of faith than I ever dreamed. She marked her Bible with hundreds of favorite biblical stories and passages. Also, tucked inside the Bible were letters, cards, and notes written by her grandchildren over the years. Especially moving were the thank you notes written for Christmas and birthday presents given to her grandchildren. I am convinced that these “thank yous,” were this woman’s most prized possessions. Human beings appreciate the tokens of gratitude that others provide.

I want to offer a token of gratitude for persons who are in "The Gathering" with me—that special group of pastors who meet each October from such far-flung places as Midland, MI, Atlanta, GA, Pensacola, FL, Salt Lake City, UT, and many other places. Sometimes our deep and rich relationships are the best ways to show gratitude to others and maybe—to ourselves.

Oct 7, 2010

On Listening and . . . Hearing

In my Navarro College (Midlothian campus) philosophy class this week we read Tom Regan’s essay entitled: “The Case for Animal Rights.” Of course, animal rights in Ellis County generally gets little affirmative press—one of my students even commented that until we read this essay she did not even know that animals had any rights. Certainly for mainstream Texans, many of whom believe that eating meat is a God-given right, this essay was something of an distasteful annoyance. So we debated the issue in class—which every semester seems to get people juices going. To get a flavor for Regan’s essay we read in class it comes as an except of his longer book. I include the following for context:

When it comes to the case for animal rights, then, what we need to know is whether the animals that, in our culture, are routinely eaten, hunted, and used in our laboratories, for example, are like us in being subjects of a life. And we do know this. We do know that many -- literally, billions and billions -- of these animals are the subjects of a life in the sense explained and so have inherent value if we do. And since, in order to arrive at the best theory of our duties to one another, we must recognize our equal inherent value as individuals, reason -- not sentiment, not emotion -- reason compels us to recognize the equal inherent value of these animals and, with this, their equal right to be treated with respect (“THE CASE FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS,” by Tom Regan: From: ANIMAL RIGHTS AND HUMAN OBLIGATIONS [Edited by Tom Regan and Peter Singer. Second edition Englewood Cliffs, NJ, Prentice Hall, 1989], ISBN # 0-13-036864-4).

All of this is to say for many students Regan’s claim consisted of unthought-of concepts until our class discussion. What was amazing was how the students talked past one another. In other words they made arguments from their particularly strongly held point of view while at the same time blatantly not listening to the other people’s positions. And as class wore on the louder the voices in the room got. More volume, less logic.

One of the things I suggested was that our first duty as budding philosophers and thinkers was simply to know what we were talking about. It takes a mature mind to acknowledge another’s perspective, respect it on its face, and yet try to logically and cogently refute it. Unfortunately, most of our discussion of issues in the public square today are more noisy than rational. Does anyone really listen any more?

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