Monday, September 21, 2009

BEN : Gratitude is something . . . .

Gratitude is something I am only beginning to learn. When I was young, I was told so often that my life was my own that I believed what they told me and told myself the same thing. “Everything is within your power. Success is in your hands. Failure is your responsibility.” Such a mantra left little room for grace.

I, too, have reflected on the words we have shared when we are together, the words we have pounded out on this blog, the words we have sent to each other on those portable computers we carry in our pockets. I am still thrilled that anyone might be encouraged or, even better, find themselves in the words we have shared. It reminds me that this is not so much a skill we are mastering as it is a gift we are receiving, this ability to occasionally transcend time and space and connect with each other in the midst of our humanity.

I began to learn to be grateful when things began to happen in my life that were so fragile that if it had been up to me, I'm sure I would have messed it up. Things like the birth of our baby boy (now 3 years-old), the gift of marriage to the possible reincarnation of Mother Teresa (if you lived with me you'd understand why she must be one of God's special saints), the discovery of an ability to write words and sentences and paragraphs that people want to read, and the moments here and there when people tell me that something I have done or said or written has inspired them in some way.

Looking back from the lofty perspective of the ripe old age of 29, I can already see the “slender threads” Robert A. Johnson talked about. Even when I was convinced that my destiny or fate or future — whatever your word — was completely in my own hands, the One Who called me into existence was actually shaping me for something else, something so strikingly ordinary I might have overlooked it were it not for a few people, a few special ones who taught me that it is in the ordinary in this world that one most often finds the Holy.

And there is no other appropriate response in the presence of such Holy things than gratitude. Everything I am and everything I am becoming is a gift from above. My calling is to keep saying “yes.”

Since we seem to be ending with prayers lately, here is one from Thomas Merton. It is becoming my own prayer these days.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always. Amen.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

ROBERT : I have been listening to us . . . .

I have been listening to us talk for some time now. Reading us, I suppose, is a better way to say it, though I read what we write you and I — Robert & Ben — and have no ink on my hands and wonder if I wrote or read anything at all. ( A conversation for another day, to be sure. )

I want to raise my hand in mid-conversation for just a moment.

I have been listening not just to you and I, good friend, but the folks who are kind and gracious enough to follow us and to read us, and then are thoughtful and generous enough to send us notes and comments about the things that we are writing here, about the conversation that we are having, about the conversation we hope to be participating in, about the conversation that is taking place all over Christendom these days. — the Conversation that the Spirit of the Holy One began long ago, and has now drawn us to continue.

We are headed to Kingdomtide, you and I, and so are all our friends, whether they keep the same calendar or not. And it seems right to me on this fine and sunny not-too-far-from-fall afternoon to raise my hand and say the words of the ancient prayer, words that encompass and encircle and encourage not only you and I, but David and Christi, and Joanne and Jim and Elaine, and Dave and Gail and Fran and John, and all the rest of us up and down this great long pew . . . .

You have made us one with Your saints, in heaven and in earth : Grant that in our earthly pilgrimage, we may always be surrounded by this fellowship of love and prayer, and know ourselves to be surrounded by their witness to Your power and mercy. Accept the prayer of Your people, we pray, and in Your great mercy, look with compassion on all who turn to You for help. Grant that we may find You and be found by You; that our divisions may cease; that we may be united in Your truth; and that we may walk together in love to bear witness to Your glory in the world.

We ask these things in the Name of the One Who made us, in the name of the One Who redeems us, and in the name of the One Who will sustain us until we are home, at home with You and with all Your saints. Amen.

It is a prayer of thanksgiving and of hope. Pray it and send it and believe it for and to and on behalf of someone you love, and those who have loved you. And be grateful for them all, as I am for you, good friend, and for all who take the time to listen to us, those who are named above, and those who are known only in the secrets of our hearts.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

BEN : I too spent time as a cadet . . .

I too spent time as a cadet in God’s Army, as one might say.

I remember one particular event where we strategically captured one intersection in suburban Houston. We were armed with cold Coca-Colas and tracts on a brutally hot afternoon. The pitch was this: “Coke says that they are the real thing, but I want you to know that Jesus is the real thing.” We were so proud that we had distributed hundreds of ice-cold beverages to unsuspecting people who were in need of the Gospel. Mission accomplished.

Perhaps there were one or two people who peeled off and then read the tract that was pasted to the side of the can by way of the intense condensation. My guess is that most used it like a napkin to keep their hands dry while they consumed a cold beverage in the heat of a Houston summer.

Looking back, I was that obnoxious evangelical who always wanted to lock horns in a verbal debate and prove someone else wrong. The goal was to get the other person to see the flaw in their logic, give up, concede, and then admit that I was right. The sad reality is that there is probably some person I went to middle or high school with that will forever hold me as a reason why they do not want to be called a Christian.

So much has changed in my life that I’m not sure I even recognize the guy I was back then. And more and more, I feel less inclined to tell others that I am a Christian for fear that they might think of me as the obnoxious guy I once was.

The practice of my teenage years left me quick to speak but empty inside. So much so that when the structure of the weekly “sales” meetings ended after I left for college, I felt let down and lost. It was not be until I sat in silence and saw the light in the flicker of a candle lit by one of the holiest men I know did I realize that the path to God is one that should begin and end with silence, for the “real thing” often reveals that which should never be spoken of or written.

My greatest failure was this: the practice of my faith centered around the flaws of others rather than myself. The story of the woman brought before Jesus after having been caught in the act of adultery resulted in the condemnation of the elders who set her up, not the naked woman standing before him. Is there a more compelling reason to believe in the promise of the Gospel?

I am a Christian not because I was able to find proof that I was better than someone else but because God saw me naked and yet did not condemn me either.

Salvation comes not in the saying of magical Sinner’s Prayer but in the seeing of ourselves naked and realizing we no longer feel condemnation.