Monday, June 30, 2014

Monday devo: Psalm 37 as a picture of the Christian life

I feel like I've written on this before, but if so, well, it's worth writing about again. I was doing my daily "read through the Bible" plan this morning and it included Psalm 37. This morning, I was struck by the different imperative commands sprinkled throughout the text. As I began jotting them down on my kitchen whiteboard, it occurred to me that they form a sort of pathway through the Christian life. Of course, we rarely go straight down this pathway. Often, we end up circling back around to early stops along the way and picking up the trail where we left off. But I like the picture of these being stations along the pathway of the Christian life.

The psalmist starts by exhorting us to do the most basic of things required of a Christian: trust. We so often talk about the starting point of our journey with God as being the time when we put our trust in Christ, so this seems like an apt place to start. But the psalmist does not let us get off so easily. He includes the phrase "and do good." It is not enough to merely have faith without deeds, as James would say. The two go hand in hand.

Next, the psalmist commands us to delight in the Lord. It has been one of the special joys of my own Christian life to watch those who are new to faith. Their exuberance and enthusiasm is contagious and convicting. This is one station I need to circle back to more often.

The psalmist then goes on to tell us that we should commit our way to the Lord. Having trusted and delighted, we need to wholeheartedly dedicate ourselves to following him. We need to commit, a word that seems to have lost some of its meaning in our transient world.

Having done so, we are commanded to be still. This may be the hardest one of all. If we've just committed, shouldn't we be moving forward, taking action, doing great things for God? But he calls us to simply be still.  Why? I think the answer comes in the final command: wait.

Twice the psalmist exhorts us to wait. The first time is paired with "be still," as he tells us to "be still and wait patiently." Later, he again says, "wait for the Lord." Having come so far, we can be tempted to forge ahead on our own, to do the thing that seems wise and right to us. But having trusted and delighted and committed and been still, surely we know enough by now to know that our way is not the best way, that God has a better plan than we could ever imagine, and that he will do his thing, in his own time, and that it will be the perfect thing. Wait for him, and see what he does. still...wait. This sounds like a perfect roadmap to peace, if you ask me.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Mark Sanford, poster boy for the party of second chances?

The NY Times magazine has a feature story up on Mark Sanford, former governor of South Carolina, now member of the House of Representatives. Sanford, of course, infamously hiked the Appalachian Trail all the way to his mistress's house in Argentina, killing his marriage and, it seemed at the time, his political career. The utter ridiculousness of how Sanford's indiscretion came to light seemed to make the outcome of the story inevitable. The man was finished, at least as far as politics was concerned.

But a funny thing happened on the way to nowhere. Sanford regrouped, stepped back, and started rebuilding. Read the article and judge for yourself whether you think he is genuinely repentant or playing a political angle. Time will tell.

Another famously fallen political figure, my old boss Chuck Colson, is mentioned in the article. When I started working for him more than twenty years after Watergate, I heard from several still skeptical friends and relatives who just were not buying the whole "born again" thing. Time was never enough to tell them anything about Colson they didn't already believe to be true. Opinions are like that, and I guess we're all entitled to one.

A few thoughts on Sanford and the NY Times article.

Thought #1: I'm not surprised that Sanford is resurrecting his political career or the aplomb with which he handled the less than enthusiastic members of his constituency in the article. Nor am I surprised at the comments in the article about current South Carolina governor Nikki Haley. I've had the opportunity to meet them both, briefly, in the same context. While serving as an officer in a community organization, I twice went to the governor's office to attend the signing of an annual proclamation. The first time, Sanford was in the State House. He welcomed our group into his private office, a room just beyond the larger and more public office, where he greeted each of us personally, chatted comfortably, asked questions and showed interest in the reason for our visit, posed for pictures with us, then sat at his desk to sign the proclamation, handing the official pen to the eldest representative of our group. A year later, Nikki Haley kept us waiting in the hallway where she eventually swept out to cheerfully but hurriedly greet us, sign the proclamation with a borrowed pen while leaning on her secretary's desk, and seemed like she would have dashed off without any pictures had not a bold member of the group asked her to pause. I thought then, and I thought again now reading this article, that Sanford possesses a natural ease and charm that makes him a great campaigner, while Haley, whatever other good traits she may have, simply lacks that social grace.

Thought #2: Perhaps a campaign victory rally is not the best place to meet your boyfriend's child from a prior marriage for the first time. This might be particularly true when the prior marriage imploded very publicly, when you were the very public cause of that implosion, and when the child involved was still a child but old enough to know exactly what was happening.

Thought #3: A friend asked me not long ago why it was that Republicans seem to be so unforgiving of their politicians who have affairs. We talked at the time about how the Republican party has fashioned itself as a party of family values so marital failures seem to cut right at the heart of what we say we're about. As I read this article though, it occurred to me that it's deeper than just that. Reflecting on Sanford's early political career, the writer mentions that a younger Sanford once "castigated" another politician who'd had an affair. When one preaches family values, it is perhaps easy to use the failure of an opponent's family as a political edge. But having done so, a later indiscretion of one's own seems like a much more glaring act of hypocrisy.

Thought #4: As someone who once had to learn how to write in Chuck Colson's 'voice,' the quote from the phone call with Sanford sounds completely wrong in its wording but very true in its sentiment. Chuck was a big believer in using his story to reach out to others who were experiencing a spectacular fall from grace of their own making and encouraging them to look to God and not lose hope. But he was not a big believer in grammatically incorrect phrases like you got to and slang like 'cause.

Thought #5: Chapur does herself and Sanford a good turn by coming across in the article as humble, gracious, and cognizant of having done wrong.

Thought #6: If you're interested, here is a post I wrote for the BreakPoint blog back in 2009 when news of Sanford's affair first broke. Even those of us who worked and wrote for Colson could scarcely imagine back then that the mess Sanford had made of his political career would be anything less than permanent.

Fallout shelter needed

Huffington Post has a good article up by a child of divorce on the immediate and long-term effects: "Part of the problem with divorce, is that it is impossible to accurately predict the fallout."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Ecumenical child of divorce

While I was on vacation last week, I finished reading Sir Walter Scott's excellent book The Abbot. Scott is one of those writers who, when I pick up one of his novels after not having read anything by him in some time, I inevitably think to myself, "Why don't I read him more often?" His work is so easy to read and so entertaining for all the right reasons.

The Abbot, if you're not familiar with it, is historical fiction. The overarching historical event is the imprisonment and subsequent, short-lived escape of Mary, Queen of Scots. Mary, who was Catholic, was imprisoned in Loch Leven Castle. In Scott's story, a young man who is secretly the child of a Catholic family is planted in the household of a Protestant family of prominence who eventually make him part of Mary's retinue to keep an eye on her, but of course he instead helps Mary effect her ill-fated escape. Throughout the novel, the main character, having had his religious education split between two factions of Christianity, has difficulty forming a solid allegiance to or disavowal of either and seeks alternately the counsel of both Catholic priests and Protestant ministers, leading to some interesting passages on theology.

The discord between Catholicism and Protestantism, of course, consumed much of early English history, with monarchs seated and dethroned on the basis of their brand of Christianity, the result being that those whose religious practice was not in step with the current ruler found themselves worshipping in secret or setting off for distant lands where their views were tolerated or were the norm.

I'm not sure whether to feel encouraged or weary when I think about that history and the parallels I see in modern Western Christianity. On the one hand, I'm strangely and sadly encouraged by the realization that we haven't reached some new level of ridiculousness; nothing, after all, is new under the sun. And, of course, I'm weary when I realize that, lo these many years later, we are still waging the same wars, just sometimes with different names. This or that pastor or leader or writer says something that others disagree with and, instead of reasoned debate or gentle reproof, we unleash a torrent of vitriol. Sigh. I think I have decided on weary.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not saying that we should throw doctrine out the window and all just sing Kumbaya (although it does bring back some rather fond memories of junior high). But it seems to me sometimes that even in Christian circles we spend more time slinging accusations around like mud and valuing snarkiness more than actual Godliness. Can't we leave all that to the politicians?

All this is why the following short passage from The Abbot struck me as so true and sad and fitting.  The setting is the battlefield, where Mary's supporters meet the supporters of the Regent, James Stewart:

"God and the Queen!" resounded from the one party; "God and the King!" thundered from the other; while, in the name of their sovereign, fellow-subjects on both sides shed each other's blood, and, in the name of their Creator, defaced his image.