Rabbi Harold Kushner shares, “I read an interview with a man whose small plane had crash-landed at a California air strip. Fortunately he was able to evacuate before the plane burst into flames. A reporter asked him what was going through his mind as the plane neared the ground. His answer: ‘I realized I hadn’t thanked enough people in my life.'” (Kushner, The Lord Is My Shepherd). I would be interested to know who came to the man’s mind. Did he wish to thank his children who taught him to love more selflessly than he ever thought was possible? Was it his spouse who stood at his side even through rough times–PTSD, cancer, bankruptcy, or some other struggle? Did he wish to thank a friend who once pulled him from the dark abyss of depression? Was it an A.A. group that turned his life around? Perhaps it was a flight instructor who equipped him to do his very best at this moment when a crash was imminent? Maybe it was a parent who was patient through his roller-coaster teen-aged years? Perhaps it was a doctor that helped him survive a childhood illness and go on to live a full, meaningful life?
Twenty years ago we were in Florida with our children and my parents. Disney World and Sea World were part of their experience, along with a trip to the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. The internet wasn’t the vast source of information back then; so, before starting on our trip to the Atlantic, I found a weather channel that had the predicted wave heights for the day. I wanted to go where the surf would be the most dramatic. Off we went to New Smyrna beach, Volusia, County, known for the best surf in all of Florida. I didn’t know at the time that New Smyrna beach is known for the most shark bites in Florida. Actually, it’s known for the most shark attacks in the US. Some have even dubbed it the shark-bite capital of the world.
In fact, this morning story of a man who hopped off his surfboard yesterday (10/29) into four feet of water. He landed squarely atop a shark that proceeded to bite him in the ankle. Turns out the larger waves in Volusia County are because a deep channel is nearer to shore by the beach there. Had I asked some locals, “Where is a beach with good waves and few sharks?” I might have chosen a different beach. When traveling there’s wisdom in choosing to learn from those who know the area. Now every time I see a report of a shark-bite there, I send a note to my grown kids. “Yup, this is where your Dad took you swimming. Oops.”
This Sunday, Grace Church will celebrate All Saints’ Sunday. In the United Methodist tradition Saints aren’t super-humans who perform miracles and are near perfect in their faith. In our tradition Saints are those we love who’ve reached heaven’s shore before us. Like all Christians they are both sinner and saint–saved by Grace. Like us, they make mistakes along the way. Like us, they’ve been created in the image of God, saved by the grace of Christ, and redeemed by the Spirit that empowers us to be our best selves from time to time. So, all Saints’ Sunday is the celebration of a God who grants us the gift of heaven after this life. But, it’s also the celebration of the God-created best in us, the reminder we are all saints by the grace of God. Each of us has wisdom to offer based on the lives we have lived and the lessons God has taught us along the journey. All Saints’ Sunday proclaims each of us is a “local” with wisdom and knowledge to help others along their faith-journeys.
Spiritually-speaking, when have you asked another for guidance and learned how to avoid the sharks? Who has been a Saint, a guide, a blessing for you (and maybe your family) along life’s journey? Today, who may need the wisdom you have to offer?
Prayer: God, use me to guide another this week. And, thank you for all who have guided me along the journey. Thanks for the chance we all have to be saints along the journey until we reach the heavenly shore. Amen.
Later in the day, I also found myself thinking of my own “True North Scripture.” It seemed God was whispering, “it’s time to get creative Roger.” The image above is the compass I used Sunday for the PowerPoint slide and for children’s moments; the brass ship’s wheel has been on my home desk for ages; and the wood is a cheese cutting board with the handle cut off and fastened upright on the board to hold the wheel. Now, burned into the re-purposed cheeseboard, is my True North: Micah 6:8 —
“You must continue with the things you have learned and found convincing. You know who taught you since childhood…” (II Timothy 3:14). Recently my wife and I went to the movie “Abominable.” It’s basically a kids movie; but it has fabulous art, my favorite song, and a story line that kept me thinking, “I can’t wait to watch this with my granddaughter.” If the movie is out in time on DVD she’ll be getting it for Christmas–because it’s one of those movies with a girl as the main hero. The girl in the movie isn’t a princess hero. She is a mix of compassion and strength, grieving a loss but persevering with hope. She is the Jesus figure others don’t quite understand, but often turn to when they are down. She is the one the others follow and discover gifts and strengths within themselves that they didn’t know they had. Every chance I get I wish to present my granddaughter with images of girls and women who are strong and heroic. It’s a grandparent goal. For her birthday we’ll be giving her the “Moana” DVD–another story where the hero is a girl. Both “Abominable” and “Moana” are stories where it will be easy for us as Grandparents to say to our grand daughter, “and that’s kind of how God watches over us through the good times and the bad–always with us in Spirit.”
When I read the line from Timothy, “you know you taught you since childhood…,” I am reminded of those who blessed my life with uplifting stories and faith-sharing when I was a child. What we learn in our youngest years can be so powerful. I want to pass on the most positive stuff in life to my grand kids–the stories that uplift, the words that encourage, Bible-stories that remind us of a loving God who is our strength, healing and courage. As II Timothy says, “We must continue with these things” for the sake of others and for the sake of our own souls. The world is not always uplifting. The messages adults, little girls and little boys receive about who they are are not always helpful and often hurtful. So, we of faith are called to continuing sharing the hope, beauty and whispers of God at work in life every day.
Jesus once told the story of a rich man who often wore purple–a color signifying royalty in Jesus’ day because it was expensive to dye cloth purple. Every time I hear the story I think of another person in the Bible who dealt in purple cloth. Her name was Lydia. She’s remembered as a generous, faithful pillar of the early church. She was the epitome of giving to Christ’s mission. The rich man, not so much. Daily he saw a beggar named Lazarus, but showed no mercy. Lazarus would have been content with crumbs from the table of the rich man. But, the rich man was neither generous or compassionate–until the day he died. On that day the rich man found himself looking over a wide chasm. On the other side was Lazarus–eating well, perhaps wearing purple, while the rich man did not even have water to cool his own tongue.
At that moment, in his own suffering, the rich man suddenly had compassion for his family. “Warn my brothers, so they don’t end up like me.” “Send Lazarus to tell them. If someone goes to them from the dead, they will change their hearts and live.” Abraham came to the rich man and said, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then they won’t be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:19-21)
I’ve an interest in watching presidents after they’ve served their terms. Jimmy Carter became a celebrity face–and frequent nail-driver for Habitat for Humanity. George Bush Sr. shaved his head to show solidarity with the two year-old son of one of his secret service detail. George Bush Jr. has spent much time with wounded vets–visiting and painting portraits. What gets less attention is that he’s been pivotal in working to end HIV in Africa–sponsoring a critical clinic. Plus, he and his wife have expanded their health-care focus into the battle against cervical and breast cancer on the African continent. I would not say he was one of my favorite presidents. But, he’s one of my favorite former presidents: because he specifically chooses to go out of his way to befriend those who are “low on the social ladder.”
Who would you describe as a Rock, Refuge, Rescuer, Hope, Dependable and Trustworthy? Psalm 71:1-6 describes the Lord as all these things, ending with the words, “My praise is always about you.”
I remember my first car, a Chevy Monza. One time I forgot the lights on in the college parking lot for four hours. It was bitter cold. When I returned to the car, the lights were dim. Snow was blowing. I turned the key. The motor barely turned over, but barely was just enough. It fired up. I began to triple-check my lights when I got out of the car after that. The Monza was a car with window cranks, no power brakes, only one adjustment on the seat, no CD player, ½ the horsepower of today’s average 4 cylinder, and I had to add the clock. But it never failed to start—no matter how cold; Even if I had to dig through the snowbank the snowplow left to get into it. Some days I miss it. I liked the style and I loved its dependability. It took care of me well—better care than I recognized at the time.
The Psalmist says, “God is dependable, trustworthy—a rock, refuge and rescuer.” God takes care of us well: better than we are often aware of at the time even if we metaphorically “leave the lights on,” translated “even if we neglect God and our spirituality.”
Take a moment to think about a time had a you had a “sinking feeling” but God came through for you. Worst fears aside you survived. Looking back things even could have been worse. In hindsight it’s clear God was protecting you. Hold on to that moment. Thank God. Then look around. Who do you see that may be experiencing a “sinking feeling?” How might you share that God is your Rock, Rescuer and Refuge? How might you help another to trust God is dependable?
And, if you happen to be in one of those “sinking feeling” times in your life, I invite you to read Psalm 71:1-6 and dwell on the word of hope that speaks to you.
“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1) Tuesday evening I rode along with the DARE Officer – Officer Ethan – to a few of the 77 Nite to Unite gatherings in Moorhead. What I repeatedly heard was how good it felt to know your neighbors–even if you don’t know them all by name. What I saw were kids running up to Officer Ethan because they knew him from the DARE presentations in their schools. What I tasted was a pretty wide sampling of summer picnic fare. What I felt, especially after a weekend of with two tragic mass shootings, was gratitude for who we can be at our best. People were simply out being kind to each other–learning a bit about people they hadn’t met before and catching up with people they knew but may not see much. Because I was riding along with an officer, I also overheard people name things that were safety concerns in their neighborhood. It was good to see people at their best–caring for their little corner of the world, so to speak.
Sometimes, when the news is bad and bloody, we forget there is still good in the world. Our faith may falter and we may begin to doubt our best and kindest hopes still have a chance of becoming reality in this world. We may feel helpless to make changes–especially when our legislators each seem locked into their own viewpoints and unwilling work toward compromises. Unfortunately, it’s easy for me to become locked into my viewpoints as well. I once read that “faith in God is the willingness to exchange what we think we know for what is God trying show us.” I believe we need to support leaders who are willing to exchange their locked-in ideas for possible solutions that will involve compromise. I believe we need to choose leaders based on their ability work with others with varieties of viewpoints–in other words who are “good neighbors.” Put all the kernels of truth together and we may one day have a harvest of hope.
In the meantime, Tuesday evening reminded me what you and I can do in our little corners of the world to make the world a better place. We can be “good neighbors.” We can refuse to give up the hope that God is working for something better in this world. We may not see it yet. But, faith tells us there is a better day and a better way. You and I can vow to be a “good neighbor” to someone today. We can also pray God will help us exchange our broken ideas for God’s own ways. The world will be better for it. We will be better for it.