The election is over

And I am dealing with its aftermath the same way I have tried to deal with the buildup to it and the day of it: through prayer.

Yes, I know this one only has 48 stars. Watch the Red Skelton video.I committed many months ago to praying for the two major party candidates — neither of which I could vote for, in good conscience (nor any of the other minor party candidates). Today I decided to renew my commitment.

One is in over his head.

The other must surely be down within her heart.

Both need prayers. Do I need to quote scripture for my fellow believers to explain why? All right, then, I will:

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior … — The apostle, Paul; 1 Timothy 2:1-3ff

Even if you consider them your political enemies.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. — Jesus of Nazareth; Matthew 5:43-45

The days ahead will be challenging for our nation and the world as we all adjust to a radically different political paradigm. This is not your usual party-to-party transition; this is from party-to-outsider-only-tenuously-connected-to-party. So pray for believers. Yes, believers. It is through believers that the world can come to know the Father, and they can come to know Him best by the gospel of His Son.

 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me — so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.

“Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.” — Jesus of Nazareth; John 17:20-25

I know it seems like we should just pray for our nation and the world and leave it up to God, but that’s the lazy way — and it’s not what God had in mind. That’s why Jesus prays for believers: because God believes in them and will empower them to do the work of making him known to the world.

Yeah; I don’t know why. I don’t know why God still believes in us — as messed up as we are, and as confident in ourselves anyway, and as convinced as ever that somehow our salvation is in a particular flag or border or army or leader or party. But He does. He expressed that faith in us through His Son and we need to pray to be strong and courageous in order to be part of the solutions to the problems this world has stupidly chosen and sinned its way into.

The day after the election, I took a little flack for posting my thoughts on Facebook:

We go forward from here.

We do better.

We commit to each other that we will participate more actively in the government of our own nation and of our own character.

We do not slough off all responsibility to elected officials.

We take it and run with it.

We bind up the wounds rather than salting or reopening them.

We respect each other.

We come together.

We fight together, not against each other, but against the divisiveness within and the antagonism from without that would gleefully destroy our Republic.

We live up to our pledge — not to a single person or party or even a flag of cloth — but to each other:

“ONE nation under God, INDIVISIBLE, with liberty and justice for ALL.”

No excuses.

But I make no apology for what I believe. Some of my friends whose candidate lost were hurting, and perhaps I should have given them a little more time and space to hurt. Others were plainly gloating, and deserved a little deflation to the party ego and the divisiveness they were displaying.

I am clearly no party animal, and it will require a willingness to unite and heal this nation if we want to be able to stand on the world stage and not appear weak, divided, partisan and yet still claiming somehow to be “Christian” with all of our bitter infighting.

And we will not be able to do this by ourselves. We need God’s help. We need humility. We need penitence. We need reliance on His power to show a Christlike nature to the world and to agree on what that means and to glorify His name above our platforms and parties and plans and presidents.

We need to pray it.

We need to live it.

‘The War Prayer,’ by Mark Twain

This article was published in Harper’s Weekly in November, 1916 — one hundred years ago — more than six years after the death of the writer, Mark Twain. He had written it in protest of the U.S. intervention in the Philippines and submitted it to Harper’s Bazaar in 1905, but it was rejected as too radical.

It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory which stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener. It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.

mark_twainSunday morning came — next day the battalions would leave for the front; the church was filled; the volunteers were there, their young faces alight with martial dreams — visions of the stern advance, the gathering momentum, the rushing charge, the flashing sabers, the flight of the foe, the tumult, the enveloping smoke, the fierce pursuit, the surrender! Then home from the war, bronzed heroes, welcomed, adored, submerged in golden seas of glory! With the volunteers sat their dear ones, proud, happy, and envied by the neighbors and friends who had no sons and brothers to send forth to the field of honor, there to win for the flag, or, failing, die the noblest of noble deaths. The service proceeded; a war chapter from the Old Testament was read; the first prayer was said; it was followed by an organ burst that shook the building, and with one impulse the house rose, with glowing eyes and beating hearts, and poured out that tremendous invocation

God the all-terrible! Thou who ordainest! Thunder thy clarion and lightning thy sword!

Then came the “long” prayer. None could remember the like of it for passionate pleading and moving and beautiful language. The burden of its supplication was, that an ever-merciful and benignant Father of us all would watch over our noble young soldiers, and aid, comfort, and encourage them in their patriotic work; bless them, shield them in the day of battle and the hour of peril, bear them in His mighty hand, make them strong and confident, invincible in the bloody onset; help them to crush the foe, grant to them and to their flag and country imperishable honor and glory —

An aged stranger entered and moved with slow and noiseless step up the main aisle, his eyes fixed upon the minister, his long body clothed in a robe that reached to his feet, his head bare, his white hair descending in a frothy cataract to his shoulders, his seamy face unnaturally pale, pale even to ghastliness. With all eyes following him and wondering, he made his silent way; without pausing, he ascended to the preacher’s side and stood there waiting. With shut lids the preacher, unconscious of his presence, continued with his moving prayer, and at last finished it with the words, uttered in fervent appeal, “Bless our arms, grant us the victory, O Lord our God, Father and Protector of our land and flag!”

The stranger touched his arm, motioned him to step aside — which the startled minister did — and took his place. During some moments he surveyed the spellbound audience with solemn eyes, in which burned an uncanny light; then in a deep voice he said:

“I come from the Throne — bearing a message from Almighty God!” The words smote the house with a shock; if the stranger perceived it he gave no attention. “He has heard the prayer of His servant your shepherd, and will grant it if such shall be your desire after I, His messenger, shall have explained to you its import — that is to say, its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men, in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of — except he pause and think.

“God’s servant and yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused and taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two — one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him Who heareth all supplications, the spoken and the unspoken. Ponder this — keep it in mind. If you would beseech a blessing upon yourself, beware! lest without intent you invoke a curse upon a neighbor at the same time. If you pray for the blessing of rain upon your crop which needs it, by that act you are possibly praying for a curse upon some neighbor’s crop which may not need rain and can be injured by it.

“You have heard your servant’s prayer — the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it — that part which the pastor — and also you in your hearts — fervently prayed silently. And ignorantly and unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: ‘Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!’ That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is compact into those pregnant words. Elaborations were not necessary. When you have prayed for victory you have prayed for many unmentioned results which follow victory — must follow it, cannot help but follow it. Upon the listening spirit of God fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

“O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle — be Thou near them! With them — in spirit — we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe. O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with little children to wander unfriended the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames of summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it — for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen.

(After a pause.) “Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! The messenger of the Most High waits!”

It was believed afterward that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

When It’s Hard to See Jesus

Almost 3,000 feet away and almost due east from my house stands the Christ of the Ozarks Statue. Some of my neighbors call it “Gumby.” I like to call it “Big Concrete Jesus.”

I have no real idea how the Good Lord feels about it, since He seemed to be rather inclined against any kind of idolatry or appearance of it in older scripture. Whether He approves or not, there it is. My neighbor, BCJ. So I have determined that I will love my neighbor as myself.

Truth is, BCJ is a good reminder.

img_0666The last couple of days have been alternating soupy-foggy and stormy-drenchy and even at mid-day or at mid-night with the spotlights of the Great Passion Play campus shining on him, or early in the morning while I was walking Roadie before the sun didn’t seem to rise and shine,  BCJ has been hard to see.

Just as in my life — and I’m guessing, yours — Jesus is sometimes hard to see.

We look at the mess our world is in and we wonder why He’s so hard to see.

Fifteen years ago, 9/11 happened and we all wanted to know: “Where is Jesus in all this?”

Before that, it might have been the Kennedy assassination, or a World War, or the Civil War, or the Revolutionary War, and people were asking the same question.

Generations before and since, people in ours and other nations have been wondering the same thing when sin and evil and hatred and death haunted their loved ones — have been asking where He is.

And, just like BCJ on my morning walks, Jesus was where He has been all along.

Jesus is right where we left Him in the story of scripture, since He physically left this world the last time.

At the Father’s right hand. In heaven. In charge.

Doesn’t He see what’s happening down here? Doesn’t He hear our cries and prayers? Doesn’t He know we’re hurting, starving, fighting, dying?

Sure He knows.

He was here, remember? Lived here. Taught here. Healed here. Loved here. Lost loved ones here.

Died here.

Lived again, here, in this world; only to rise to a better one to make a better place for us.

If He’s hard to see, it’s not because He’s moved.

It may be because we have. Or the clouds that obscure Him have. Or the lights have failed and the darkness has, for a time, won out.

And He’s still there.

I moved 800 miles recently — not so much to be closer to BCJ, but to my kids — and I doubt that I’ll be moving any closer to the statue on East Mountain.

But I hope I never lose sight of Jesus, or stop moving closer to Him, or give up and stop trying to see Him — whether He seems obscured or seems as clear as on a crispy, sunshine-drenched autumn day. Even if I do, though …

He’s still there.

Still there, rejoicing with those who rejoice.

Still there, mourning with those who mourn.

Still there, interceding for those who pray.

Still there, providing and remaining and answering the door for those who ask, seek and knock.

I know I need to remember that. Maybe you do, too.

Well, that’s the way I see things from Eureka Springs, Arkansas — where the fog creeps in on little cat’s feet and beats a retreat when a storm is the norm.

And where BCJ says hey.

Home to a Place I’ve Been Before

Quite a lot has happened in my life since my last post.

I sold my house in Webster, N.C. and moved to Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

I’ve never lived here before — well, never more than a few days at a time — but I have long wanted to.

It’s the place where Angi and I became engaged; where we brought our kids for long weekends away from Little Rock; where this little cottage that is now my home was built in 1882 by the ninth governor of Arkansas, Powell Clayton (along with several others, the Crescent Hotel and the Eureka Springs Railway). And where it has been for sale for about three years and three realtors.

But no more.

I’ve bought it and am making it my home as I unpack all my boxes.

bedroom249

Angi and I talked about retiring here. I don’t know if we would have or not, but I hope to. Not yet, of course; I’m still working via web for Western Carolina University … writing and posting news articles to the university’s news website and putting together the weekly newsletter to faculty and staff, The Reporter.

I’ve been coming to Eureka Springs for weekend and holiday retreats for about 30 years now — I can still remember my first trip, riding the steam train and walking a couple of trails on an inexpensive trail map I bought at a bookstore.

I probably missed seeing my house (panorama of it currently featured in the blog header) the first time on that trip … I think I took the stair-step trail by Crescent Spring on up to the Crescent Hotel, and bypassed it. But I saw it many, many times thereafter on the countless trolleybus rides that our family took together. Laura and Matthew, even when little, loved to ride the trolleybuses.

Now they pass in front of my house, on the average of every twenty minutes on the weekend. Except when some idiot with Four Men and Two Trucks is trying to move in on a two-festival Saturday and causes a traffic jam along with a trolleybus and a guided-tour tram.

trafficjames

Eventually, a cooler head in the silver truck behind the tram un-logjammed everything by turning left in front of me, freeing up the Two Trucks full of my possessions behind me to move forward so that the tram beside us could move, too.

But no one really lost their cool, because Eureka Springs is just that sort of place — even when it’s hot and sweltery outside, people are there to chill out. And for the most part, they do.

And that, perhaps more than anything else, is why it feels like home.

Next to last

I watched “What Dreams My Come” just now because I needed to.

It was especially difficult to watch this visually dazzling movie about soulmates, loss, depression, death, suicide, the afterlife and love because it stars the late and truly great Robin Williams.

But it is the next-to-last movie on my list of movies I have had to wait to watch since losing Angi three years ago.

Only “Shadowlands” remains.

Still not ready to watch that one.

I read somewhere long ago – I think when trying to lead a Single Again Class for divorced and widowed people in Abilene – an author who recommended a year of healthy grief for every five years you got to spend with the one you’ve loved and lost.

That seems about right to me.

Next year, “Shadowlands.”

A Blessing for the Journey

May the wind be at your back
But not only at your back

May the wind be ever before you
To clear the path ahead

May the wind be always at your side
At either side and both, a friend

May it support you from beneath
And keep you grounded as the earth

May it blow above that clouds may part
And show you stars above

May the wind surround you like a warm cloak
Protecting you from threats and harms

And may it inspire you from within
God’s very breath, His Spirit yours

Today, tomorrow and forever.

Amen.

Easter – and Maybe My Shortest Message Ever

My little church family and I gathered at our old parsonage in Sylva this gloomy, grey Easter morning. We prayed. We sang. We dined together at the Lord’s table and remembered Him. Then John led us in “It Is Well With My Soul.”

It was time for me to speak. I gathered myself as best I could. And I said (to the best of my recollection):

“As many of you know, it was many, many months after Angi passed away before I could sing ‘It Is Well With My Soul’ again. Many of you prayed with me for the miracle that would save her life. And God’s answer was ‘no.’

“And that’s as good a segue into my message this morning as I know. We’ll be going out-of-sequence in our study of prayer in scripture” — last Sunday we left off with the prayers of prophets — “to talk about Jesus’ last prayers and what happens when God says ‘no.'”

Then we read Matthew 26:36-46. I asked: “What happens when God doesn’t answer prayer the way we would like?”

Suzanne and Brenda suggested that perhaps it’s because He has a better plan in mind.

Then I asked: “What would have happened if God had not said ‘no’ to His Son’s prayers?”

The answers cascaded: “We wouldn’t be celebrating Good Friday or Easter” … “We wouldn’t have celebrated the Lord’s Supper this morning” … “We wouldn’t even be here.”

So I paused a moment, and tried to phrase my next question carefully. “Forgive me; I have a colossal headache this morning and I’m not at my best. Let me ask this: Could God have saved us and still said ‘yes’ to Jesus’ prayers … ‘Yes, this cup can pass from You’?”

There was general assent the He could, indeed. “He can do anything He wants to,” Suzanne volunteered.

“I can’t argue with that,” I replied, “… and I believe it’s true. But if He had, what would have happened to Isaiah 53? And so many of the other prophecies about Jesus?”

There was a moment of silence. John, sitting an empty seat away, touched me on the shoulder. “Key point,” he said.

“It is, isn’t it?” I said. “I’ve thought about this for a number of years. And I’ve had to come to the conclusion that the only acceptable reason for God to have said ‘no’ to the pleas of His own Son for His life would have to be that there was no other way. God put put Himself in this box of prophecy, knowing the impact that this final blood sacrifice would have on hearts for centuries yet to come. Two thousand years down the road, this Story still gets us … right … here.”

And I felt my fist pounding against my chest.

And I felt my composure slipping away as I spoke.

“Nothing touches us like the Story of God’s Son giving Himself up. Nothing else could do. If it had only been a story of a man dying cruelly, it would have been only one of thousands of cruel deaths. But it was God’s Son. If God’s Son had only died cruelly — evil would have been shown for what it is, all right — but it would have been no kind of Story that tells us of God’s power; that proves only God … can … give … life … back.”

By this time I was nearly undone. I needed a tissue, but I had none. So my face got wet.

The_Garden_Tomb_2008“And that is why I have to believe that when God says ‘no,’ even when it hurts; even when you lose someone dearest to you, that God does indeed have a better idea; a better plan.

“This Story tells me that I can fall on my face and pour out my heart and trust God and say, ‘Your will be done,’ and that He will make the most painful of times turn out for a best that we can’t even imagine,” I finished.

“And it will be well with our souls.”