Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Journey's End

We started the journey with ashes. Here we are now with only a few of those holy days left. Coming to the end of the Lenten journey means going deeper into the darkness that has been looming on the horizon for some time now. It can be no other way. What awaits us in this Lenten season is the gathering where feet were washed, the meal was served, and the betrayer went out into the darkness. What awaits us is the nighttime struggle in the Garden with Satan and the arrest of Jesus. What awaits us is Friday, a day filled with such horror that not even the sun could penetrate the darkness being put upon the earth.
The Lenten journey started so long ago ends with a battered, bloody, dead body being lowered from the cross and a trip to a hole filled with the darkness of the nearing sunset and death. It is at this point that the journey ends. The Lenten journey does not end this Sunday when the trumpets sounds resurrection; instead, it ends as we behold the Savior buried in the ground of the earth. As we stand there at the end of the journey, we start coming to terms with how hopeless and dark life really is when it is emptied of the presence of Jesus.
Sometimes as I hear on Good Friday, "It's Good Friday, but, Easter is coming!" I fear we are doing what we tend to do too easily with the stuff of life that makes us uncomfortable. What we tend to do is race on by without really allowing ourselves to experience a present moment filled with the pain of life. Not thinking about it is a way of not dealing with it. Only as we stay in the darkness of the journey's end do we have any hope of truly experiencing all that the Lenten journey offers to us. The beginning is about ashes. The ending is about the death of a Savior and the darkness where there is no hope.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Rolling Cross

Not really sure what I saw I took a second look. What caught my attention was what seemed to be a person in a long white dress. As I turned momentarily from the highway in front of me to see what I saw out of the corner of my eye, I realized the white dress billowing in the wind was really a white robe. Alongside the white robed man were two other folks who were helping him get under the rather large wooden cross. In the space of those quick seconds, I thought, "Ah, someone is carrying a cross along the road." It is not a particularly unheard of thing. After all, it is Holy Week and Good Friday is coming. Just as I was turning my attention back to my driving, I saw it. At the bottom of the cross where it might be dropped into the ground there was a wheel. The guy was not really going to be carrying the cross, or dragging it. He was going to be rolling it. It was not the old rugged cross, but the rolling cross.
Now I am sure it was still a bit of an ordeal to manhandle that large wooden cross along the side of the road. The wheel might have made it easier, but it was still a task which would surely make the Jesus impersonator weary and worn. It was a warm windy afternoon and rolling that thing along for any amount of time would be a hot sweaty task. It might have been mimicking the suffering of Jesus, but still it was a long way from experiencing the suffering of Jesus.
The truth is we much prefer a rolling cross. It looks like the real thing, but is not even close. Jesus once spoke to His disciples about "taking up a cross." A cross was an instrument of death. To take up a cross means denying self to the point that we count our life something of no value unless it is useful for the purposes of God. Taking up a cross as Jesus talked about it is messy, painful, and results in a death. While it may not be the death that takes away our breath, it is the death that takes away the right to self. It is no wonder some folks sing, "I will cling to the rolling cross..."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Parsonage

Though times are changing some, it can still be said that the parsonage is a permanent fixture in Methodism in the South Georgia area. For those out of the Methodist loop, the parsonage is the house provided by the local church for its appointed pastor. Having lived in one since the 8th grade, I have seen more than just a few. While a few have been near new and more have been well used, one stands out as the most unusual. The most unusual was not the one from which the snake had to be evicted before we could move in. Actually, we didn't move in that one. The snake seemed to be a signal that the church needed new housing. The most unusual was the one that was shared with an unseen friend.
The parsonage at Talbotton was a unique place. It was built in 1890, was on the Registry of Historical Places, and had been updated as much as possible without negating its place as a historical site. It had a great front porch, high ceilings, and a wide interior hallway down the middle which separated one side of the living area from the other. It still makes a striking presence on the corner upon which it was built over a century ago. When we went there in the mid '70's, we were told by a pastor and his wife had who lived there decades earlier that the house was haunted. At the time the pastor was my District Superintendent! Stories abounded about the reason. Some said there had at one time been a graveyard on the site of the house and a grave or two had been missed when they were moved to the new cemetery. Others declared an American Indian had been laid to rest where the house stood.
I wonder if stories still come from the Talbotton parsonage. Maybe preachers of our day have become too sophisticated to take the stories seriously, or maybe the unseen presence finally decided that no matter what, another Methodist preacher was still going to come. Maybe what happened to the unseen presence was what happens to a lot of church folks. Sometimes church folks get tired of waiting on the preacher to leave, so they go.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

More About Journaling

For me the journaling experience has always been a part of my early morning devotional time. As I come to that hour I turn on the computer, bring up the last entry of the journal, and type in the date. In addition to the scripture, there are several daily devotional guides which I read during this time. One is written for clergy; one is written by Dennis Kinlaw, the President of Asbury College back in my days; and, the other is a pre-1900 devotional guide from my old book collection. As I come across a verse or a sentence which seems to stand out as a significant word for that moment, I copy it in my journal, noting the source, and my response to it. This gives me a record of what was going on in my walk with God on this particular day. It has also proven to be helpful to read back over previous day's entries and read these highlighted passages.
The journal discipline also provides a place to note some of the things about which I am praying. Sometimes there is simply a notation about a prayer and sometimes I actually turn to the keyboard and type in the prayer as if I am writing and sending it to God. So, what I end up with is a record of praying. It has been more than interesting to look at what I was praying about months ago, or maybe even a year ago, and see how it is that those prayers were handled by the Father God who received them. At times it seems like God is standing behind me, looking over my shoulder as I pray these prayers on the screen before me. It has become another way for me to be interactive with God about the things of my heart.
The bottom line for me is the journal has become another spiritual discipline. It is a constant reminder of the degree to which I am intentional about my personal life with God. While I do not require of myself an entry every day, a long space between the present and the last dated entry says a word about my commitment to being spiritually disciplined. In those moments my journal becomes like a call to once again do some re-arranging of the space in my life.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

About Journaling...

"Blog a bit about journaling," was the suggestion I received after my recent posting about a lost and found journal. It caused me to think about something I have just been doing. To be honest is to to admit that I did not really start out to journal. I was struggling with some stuff and sat down to write about what was inside of me. It was for me one of those things about which it can appropriately be said , "It just happened!"
After receiving the suggestion, I decided to offer a few personal thoughts. In retrospect, a journal provides a place to be honest. My writing is a bit like the Psalmist David. While it is not eloquent, poetic, or a word for the ages, it is honest. From the beginning I found myself falling into a pattern of being honest with myself and God about some of the things I was feeling. Some of those feelings can only be described as unholy, maybe even thoughts which were "un-preacher-like!" It has never been my intent to simply recount the experiences or the encounters of the day; yet, there are so many entries in which I am remembering some of the affirmations or conflicts of the day and reflecting upon them. In some ways the journal process has become a documentation of the way God brings my life to a place where it intersects with the lives of others.
Some moments have such value that they must be remembered. For example, I do not want to forget the way a small child's hug spoke to me of God's presence. And neither, do I want to forget the way I felt after lashing out at someone who was throwing verbal stones at me. The memory of the child's hug has often encouraged me and the memory of my unleashed anger has helped me to still my tongue. So, I suppose the first words I would offer about journaling is that it is about remembering and learning.