Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross

Jesus, keep me near the cross
the one on the wall in my church
or in my study
but not the one planted in the ghetto
where crime is rampant
and poverty is the rule

Keep me near the cross
where the shiny people are
people like me
people my color
people who make about as much as I do
or maybe a little more

Jesus, keep me near the cross
the shiny gold one
superimposed on my country’s flag
that tells me you’re on our side
and that we’re never wrong

Keep me near your cross
where there aren’t any thieves
hanging about nearby
where there’s no guilt or shame
or suffering or pain
or anything that requires my attention
my sympathy
my empathy
my generosity
myself

Jesus, keep me near the cross
that’s just there once a week
and not every day
every hour
every minute
every second
that’s just too much to ask
from the One who gave it all

Believing in Church

I’m not sure that I do, anymore.

Oh, I still believe in God and His Son Jesus and their Holy Spirit.

And I believe that our Savior died and lived again and sent His Spirit to establish a church — a gathering of people dedicated to living a life that echoes His, does good in the world, ministers to others, lives in constant prayer and worship and service to Him and the Father through Him and by the power of that Spirit.

What I’m uncertain that I believe in is the church as it is.

Riddled with division.

Torn by power struggles.

Wounded by selfishness.

Weakened by faithlessness.

Prostituted to worldly enterprises and politics.

Unprincipled, powerless, poor, sick and dying.

And totally unable to see itself in this condition.

How can a church repent when she cannot see herself in need? How can she return to the husband of her youth when she cannot leave behind her paramours in business and government? How can she be one bride when her personality has been shattered across denominations and conferences and names and opinions and creeds and committees and factions and races?

So many times she lives in grandiose luxury cathedrals in the middle of neighborhoods plagued by poverty and squalor — and does nothing.

Would her Champion do nothing?

Too often her spokespersons preach gospels of wealth and acquisition and greed through code words like “blessing” and “favor” and “grace.”

Would her King show such favoritism?

Constantly the cries of her scattered consciousness of “I am the one true church” fall on deaf ears and her (frequently) self-serving “good” works are unseen by eyes turned away by her hypocrisy.

Would her Lord be so duplicitous?

Yet she squanders her resources to grow and “reach the lost” with bigger and better and more; with programs and ministries and Sunday shows; with worship bands and laser lighting and smoke machines and big-screen visuals; with campaigns and revivals and marches and protests.

Is that how her Christ won the hearts of people seeking a better life?

Only Matthew’s gospel quotes Him as mentioning the church, and only three times. And all three times, it’s in the context of how faith affects action.

Do the spokespersons for His bride teach this anymore?

Because that’s pretty much all He taught. How He lived. How He died. How He lived again.

He believed He could live a life that served others and therefore pleased His Father, and death could not stop Him.

He believed that the faith of Peter would survive His death, and death could not stop the church that would be founded on such faith. (Matthew 16:18)

He believed that faith acting in love was the way that people in His church could successfully deal with problems among themselves. (Matthew 18:15)

He believed that even if that initially failed, that those whose intransigence separated them from that church could still be drawn back to it by love and faith. (Matthew 18:17)

What you believe affects the way you act toward others.

In spite of our fallibility and failure and selfishness, it is possible to live that kind of life and be a part of that community of faith and love.

He is actually not quoted as saying anything about meeting together or when or how often or what is required when that happens or who is allowed to lead or read or speak. I think He assumed it would happen as people drawn together by love and faith.

So He made a dying request, as He asked His closest friends to remember Him at the table of His bread and wine: Be one. Even as He and the Father are One. Love each other to the point you would lay down your lives for each other.

Then He went to the cross and laid down His life for them, for us, for all. He went to the tomb and laid to rest His mortality and all the wrongs and injustices that could ever be done. He went to His Father’s side to prepare a place for those who wanted to live in love forever.

And He must look at us and wonder how His shattered, scattered, schizoid bride could live with herself together in one place.

Surely He still weeps.

That’s what I’m having trouble believing in. What it’s difficult for me to remain a part of.

Because I see friends and others largely living the kind of life that loves and serves others, though they have either no real knowledge of Him, or judge Him by His bride, or simply feel they have no need for ritual or creed or the kind of exclusion they have felt because they are not part of the fellowship.

Does the One who died to save all draw the line that excludes them?

Does He not know how they’ve been treated; seen how His bride has treated others — judging and belittling and mocking and rejecting them, all the while proclaiming their “love” for them?

I can’t help but think that’s not the kind of life He bought for her with His very own.

I haven’t really been to church in a while. I miss it. I miss the fellowship, the breaking of bread, the instruction, the prayers. I miss the songs that should flow from all grateful hearts. I know I’m not perfect; that none of us is perfect; that we could all be better.

But I just feel there’s got to be something more. More than one holy day per week. More than one hour of worship while gathered. More than one voice teaching or preaching or praying or reading. More than opinions that divide rather than love and grace and humility and faith which unites.

I still, perhaps foolishly, believe that the church can be one.

She can find her path, her love, her mission for others; herself.

But that journey is long, and difficult.

And I’m not at all sure that’s the direction she’s going.

Farewell, Old Friend

Well, dear ones: My companion of 16 years, Roadie, passed quietly this evening after a brief illness.

He did everything quietly, though. Unless he barked while visiting at the homes of his friends Jean or Tracellen while I was traveling, he had not done so for years.

About the only sounds he ever made were whimpers while dreaming of running in his sleep.

He had gone deaf over the last couple of years, and his eyesight was beginning to dim — after all, he was at least 18 years old. But he could sniff, and loved to do so on his morning and evening walks.

He had compression in his 5th-7th vertebrae, his vet in Sylva told me in 2015, and in his last few months I could tell that the walks — and especially the steps — were becoming more painful to him. His pace slowed. I closed off the staircases in the cottage so he wouldn’t try to follow me up- or downstairs and break a limb.

He was friendly to all creatures, from cats to other dogs to any person he ever met. He was fond of little ones, especially my grandson Kayson, and was happy to be a headrest and back pillow for him when he watched videos on my computer.

Many of you know that I often referred to him as Roadie, The World’s Sweetest Dog™️, and if any dog ever deserved that trademark, it was surely him.

Holy Saturday

Jesus.

Your final words from that cross are still ringing in our ears.

We followed you for years, and it all ends like this?

Where are you?

Are you gone?

Can the One you called Father no longer hear our cries or feel our anguish or siphon our tears into His bottles of grief?

Where is He?

Why is the face of the Divine hidden from the mortal?

Why have we been forsaken?

We are scattered like sheep.

We are undone.

We are lost.

We speak to You, but there is no answer.

We cry out, but there is no comfort.

Our bones are dried up from weeping.

Our hearts are liquefied from fear.

Can You return to us from the grave, as You brought others back to life?

Can the dead who raised the dead raise Himself from the dead?

Are You really the Son of God?

Or did we waste our time, only to waste away now — slinking back together in secret, in terror for our lives; in dread of escaping the threat that took You and returning to empty lives?

Where have You gone that we can’t follow?

What mansion can be built inside a tomb by the dead?

We try to believe.

But we can’t even believe You’re gone.

Please.

If somehow You still live …

Outside of our hearts

Beyond our memories

Out of the reach of all pain

In a place that’s real …

Please.

Don’t leave us.

I Get It, Mom

Today my mom would have turned 95, but we lost her five years-and-some ago.

She and Dad would have been married 50 years in 1995, had he not suddenly passed at the age of 66 a couple of years before that golden anniversary. My older sister had already begun thinking about an event for them while he was still alive, and she hosted it anyway, and it was a wonderful tribute to their marriage.

Dorothy L. Brenton

I think we both asked her from time to time in the years that followed if she would date again.

She didn’t express any interest in it. In fact, I remember her telling us that a couple of older gents had asked, and she had politely declined.

I think, as much as anything, my sisters and I wanted to let her know that we’d be fine with it if she did. We knew how deeply she and Dad loved each other, and there would be no replacing him, and no one ever again like him. But we told her that we would love to see her happy in another relationship.

We didn’t want what had happened with a cousin of ours and his dad, when his mom had passed away — and our uncle soon married again; married a gal so much like our aunt that she even had the same first name. It caused a rift between father and son, and they didn’t speak for years.

I understand that you can love someone different from the one you’ve lost, and love them differently, and still love them as much. I can grasp that it’s not an insult to the lost spouse to seek another, as much as it is a compliment that marriage was so good with that spouse that a relationship like that was worth seeking again. And could have the potential to be just as wonderful, or — in some ways you can’t anticipate — even better!

But here I am, now … looking this year at turning the age my dad was when his cardiac episode took him home. Almost eight years out from losing Angi.

And I’ve sought, and tried, and failed.

For a lot of reasons, I’m sure. It’s a different century, and I don’t know how to date or even ask for a date in the 21st Century; how to strike up a conversation, even; or where to go to meet someone.

I even resolved at the end of 2019 to give it one more year, then give it up. So of course, the year I’d pick would be pandemic year 2020.

In spite of it, I had three dates. (Four, if you count taking out a couple of former co-workers for Thai lunch and reminiscing together, both of whom already have sweet fellas!) They were latte-and-a-long-walk dates, and they went pretty well. Things didn’t go well after the first one with the neighbor I asked off-the-cuff and without premeditation, but the other two with a very sweet lady just a couple of years my junior were wonderful.

It just felt like there wasn’t anything special there, between us, for either of us.

And I guess I’ve started to realize why Mom didn’t pursue the dating game.

It’s just kind of sad when you hit it off with someone, but that magic just isn’t there like it was with your spouse. It’d be even more sad to pretend it or try to make it happen. It’s there, or it’s not. And downright tragic to get into a relationship hoping that it would develop, or having it develop for one of the two of you, but not the other. Or maybe worse, for neither of you.

It’s not a matter of expecting your other to be just like your spouse, or even just a little like your spouse, or to live up to any kind of expectation. It’s just that the indefinable “something” that has to be there to make it work … well, just isn’t there.

So I’ve made the decision. I’m retiring from the dating-and-romance thing. The pandemic is not going away soon. The pressure of the years on me is not going to let up in a minute. I’m not exactly a bargain package to the market at large. And I’m just not sure the full value is there for me anymore, either.

I know that sounds selfish, and it probably is, but that’s the way things are.

So, I’m sorry, Mom, if I pressured you by asking or encouraging when I was a lot younger, and deeply in love, and couldn’t possibly understand the reasons why you might not ever feel the same in a relationship the way you felt with Dad.

I get it now.

2020

The year of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The year I stepped back from the best job in the world — conducting the passenger train at the ES&NA — two weeks before the governor issued a mask mandate that would have made it safer.

The year I preached mostly from Facebook Live. And I’m still not a preacher; I’m a teacher and scripture reader and that has to be enough.

The year I gave dating one last shot before retiring from it. In December of 2019, I decided to give it one more year. So of course the year I decided to give it was 2020. And of course it didn’t work out, and I didn’t get over whom I needed to get over, and I didn’t get any better at dating in the 21st Century than I was in the 20th.

No surprise, really.

The year I stayed home and did nothing. Though I did finish writing my weird trilogy of novels. That will probably never be published, and that’s okay; at least I finished them.

The year I didn’t overdecorate at Christmas. The year I didn’t decorate the cottage at Christmas, at all, really. I put up wreaths. And a 24” tree.

The year that was so depressing that it would have been no surprise if Donald Trump had won re-election. And it was really no surprise that he fought the results and refused to concede and did as much damage as he could in the waning days of his presidency.

The year that more than 325,000 Americans died from a virus that too many people were too stupid or stubborn or selfish to take steps to help prevent or protect themselves from.

The year that absolutely everyone could agree on needed to be over as soon as possible, but it had to hang in there for its full 366 days because it just had to be a leap year too.

The year we all want to forget, but shouldn’t, because otherwise we’ll never learn from it.

Isaiah 25:6-8; Matthew 8:11 – The Feast of Heaven

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 52

One of the prophecies treasured by God’s people the most is Isaiah’s promise of a great banquet in God’s kingdom, over which the Lord Himself presides: the best of everything, for all nations. And in a moment, He removes the shroud of death and wipes away the tears of mourning. Referring to that promise, Jesus emphasizes that “many will come from the east and the west” to join that banquet with Abraham and Isaac. It is clearly a promise of the kingdom of heaven that is to come, a feast in heaven with the resurrected patriarchs.

The prophecy’s fulfillment comes at the descent of a New Jerusalem, uniting a new heaven and a new earth, according to the revelation given to John of Patmos (Revelation 21:1-4). Two verses later, the banquet’s beverage is dispensed: “To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life (Revelation 21:6).” And the spring is the source of the river of life, flowing from God’s throne, feeding the tree of life that bears fruit all the time, and whose leaves heal the nations (Revelation 22:1-5).

It is a feast presaged by this simple bread and cup. For it is this communion that Jesus celebrated the first time when He said, “I will not drink from this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:29; Mark 14:25)

A Prayer Over the Bread

God of the past, present and future: we praise Your name in anticipation of that great banquet of life spread for the healing of the nations in your kingdom yet to come. We do so with this bread, the body of Your Son, which makes that feast possible. Bless it and us, always, to be Your staff of life in this world, the leaven of Your gospel, the body that is Your church, the hope with which we have been nourished and must nourish others who starve for life, real life, eternal life. Through Jesus we pray this: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

This fruit of the vine, our God, is the blood of Your Son — and for it we give you unending praise. We look forward to sharing it with Him in Your kingdom today, and in Your kingdom yet to come. He is the Vine; we are the branches. Bear much fruit through us, we pray; bring life to the lifeless through this blood coursing in us — to Your glory through Jesus, the Christ: Amen.

 

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 – Discerning the Body

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 51

Remember. Remember. Proclaim. Examine. Discern.

These are key words in the instruction Paul shares with a church in Corinth that has lost its focus on what — on Whom — it celebrates in the bread and the wine. The church gathered to celebrate, but because they were divided and did not discern the very nature of Christ in the meal they shared, they were “doing more harm than good,” in Paul’s words.

They did not wait for everyone to arrive before sharing the meal. Some were left hungry, and others got drunk. Their focus was on themselves, their pleasure, their satisfaction: not those who, along with themselves, comprise the body of Christ.

Discernment was not just a matter of seeing Christ’s blood in the cup or His body in the bread … but seeing those gathered in His name as His body, given for all. This truth is proclaimed in the sharing, not in hoarding for oneself. So we should examine self to make sure that self is in line behind Christ and others; we should discern not only His broken body, but His united, gathered body — His church.

A Prayer Over the Bread

One God and Father of us all, who is over all and through all and in us all (Ephesians 4:6), we give you praise and thanksgiving for this bread, which symbolizes the unity of the body of Christ, even though it was broken for us. Bless it and nourish us through the unity of Your Spirit and the common bond of faith we find when we dine at this Lord’s table, we pray in the name of Jesus: Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Our Lord and God, we see unity of purpose and passion and perfection in this cup, the blood of Your Son. We see Him and we remember who He was. We remember who He is. We proclaim His unspeakably cruel death and his inconceivably glorious resurrection. We examine our own lives in the light of His, and find our blood unworthy of His, and desperately in need of it in order to live now and forever. Bless this cup of thanksgiving, we ask in Jesus’ name: Amen.

Acts 27 – A Meal Before the Shipwreck

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 50

The Apostle Paul, arrested, imprisoned, and tried multiple times though blameless, appealed to Caesar so that he couldn’t be taken and murdered by anti-Christian Jews who had vowed to fast until they had done so. While aboard a ship headed for Rome at a season when most ships stayed in port, a storm blew upon them so great that even the pagan sailors fasted to implore their gods for deliverance. Paul, warned in a dream, reminded them that he had advised the shipmaster not to set sail, but that they should all eat and — as God had instructed him — they would all be saved if they remained aboard.

So he took bread and blessed it before all of them, and gave it to them to eat … just as his Lord had done at Passover. It was a miraculous opportunity to witness to Christ’s faithfulness before nonbelievers, and share bread with them — for sure enough, though the ship was wrecked, they stayed aboard until it ran aground and they swam or floated for shore. And all of them survived — 276 in all. Salvation through the water, celebrated by the bread, accepted by obedience.

A Prayer Over the Bread

God of deliverance from peril we can only imagine, we praise Your name for Your salvation, accomplished through the giving of Your Son, Jesus. We remember His body in this bread, and ask your blessing on it, just as Paul did so in faith that salvation was at hand. Thank you for snatching us from the sting of death through the One who died and took up His life again. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Our Father and Creator, we lift to You this cup for Your blessing, for it is life to us through the blood of Your Son. Storms may seem great to us, but He calmed them. Our blood may be threatened, but His flowed freely and purchased our salvation from certain death in this life and the age to come. We give you thanks for the power that is in the blood of Christ. Amen.

Acts 20 – A Resuscitation Before the Table

52 Weeks at the Table – Week 49

A visiting missionary on a farewell tour with only a week to spend at Troas had a lot to say on his final night with his church family there. So Paul kept talking until midnight, and one member of his audience not only fell asleep, but fell out of the third story window. But Paul’s talk – that almost certainly centered around the One who was resurrection and life – was not mere talk. And the young man Eutychus who had been picked up dead was stunningly rendered alive by Paul’s embrace.

Then, apparently exhibiting no great surprise, Paul climbed the steps again to break bread with that dear church family, spoke on until daylight, then left for his next destination. A body that should have been broken by a three-story fall was taken home whole and alive. The Lord’s power to give life and restore the broken to wholeness would be visible in that town for as long as Eutychus lived there … and that reality would surely have been on the minds of those who broke bread at Troas for just as long.

A Prayer Over the Bread

God and Father, we are a people as broken as this bread; restored to wholeness and given new life by Your Son, who gave His body and His life to bring us this gift. We remember this reality as we break this bread. Even when we fall, Your love bears us up; Your embrace makes us whole again. Nourish and strengthen us with the grace of this bread, for which we give You our humble thanks. Amen.

 

A Prayer Over the Cup

Dear God, thank you for this cup, for life itself, for forgiveness when we break faith with You, for Your Son, for His blood which restores us in grace. It is a blessing too magnificent for us to drink in, yet we do so with all due gratitude. When our travels and Your mission for us must separate us for however long, bring us back together at this table and this cup and the life which never ends. In Jesus’ name: Amen.