Thanksgiving Now and Then

Posted: November 26, 2015 in Uncategorized

So this is what it is like, the waiting for their arrival because they got away from work late, driving through the night to come to the house where family Thanksgiving will be held , our house, here. In just a minute or hour or two the lights of their car will flash in the windows as they pull into the drive and I, jammy clad, will welcome the bleary eyed children as they pile out and in, a few possessions in hand, though Dad is really unloading the car, hauling the suitcases and trash bags of stuff.

This is what it was like for my parents, no wait, my grandparents, as we invaded year after year. And they were up waiting, rising from a nap, or reading by the table lamp when the next generation came a calling. And now it’s me wiping sleep from my eyes, turning on the lights and turning down the beds. We just trade places, that’s all.

What I will never tell this nephew and his all too pregnant wife and their adorable children is that he will be me soon enough. I will not tell him, first, because it could never mean anything now, at this place in his road. But more importantly, I will not tell him because I would never take from him the strange moment I just had, when I stepped into the same waiting of those who once waited for me just because it is my turn.

Seeds and Spirit

Posted: November 7, 2015 in Uncategorized

The Harvest Timothy L. Carson
Matthew 12:1-10 November 7, 2015

How many of you have had times in your life when no matter what you did, no matter how much effort you extended, no matter the love, devotion, or commitment you offered up, all your efforts seemed to come to naught? At least you didn’t see your efforts materialize immediately. I think most of us have been there before or are maybe there now.

If you have had that experience you will immediately identify with Jesus’ Parable of the Sower. The scene is a familiar one from rural life. In a time before automated seed planters, the sower walked the field, seed bag over his shoulder, and cast handfuls of the seed toward the open furrows of the field. Of course, the seed fell in many places. And depending on where it fell the seed either flourished or failed.

Some of the seed landed on rocky places and the birds ate it for lunch.
Some seed fell in shallow soil and sprouted but the plant could not take root and it withered. Other seed fell among thorns so even though it did grow it found itself strangled by competing plants. Then there was the seed that fell in good rich soil. This seed grew and yielded a great harvest.

When you think of the scattered efforts of our days and years this makes sense, doesn’t it, the mixed reviews on all we’ve tried or done? Which person here hasn’t watched as the things we cherished so much fell on the ground and were whisked away by the birds? Don’t you remember the time when that project started so strong and quickly but soon withered away? And which one of us hasn’t seen the most important things just choked out by the thorns of life’s distractions and demands? Of course we have, all of them. Sometimes the seed – no matter how important – doesn’t seem to have a chance.

If we have experienced that – and we have – then we are well on the way to understanding a truth Jesus was telling in his story, namely, that in the same way a sower casts many seeds, each one of them facing a very uneven chance of survival, so the Spirit casts the wisdom of God to and fro in the world and it has equally uncertain chances of rooting, growing, bearing a harvest, all depending on where it lands.

I am in a men’s Bible study and one of the topics we recently discussed was the tension or balance between what seems to be given/determined/destined and what freedom we have to choose. Though some of us leaned one way more than the other, we all thought there was interplay between destiny and our ability to choose a path. This parable paints a picture of both as well.

What is predestined is the nature of the Divine Sower, namely, that the grace and mercy and wisdom of God are always sown abundantly and made available in the world. We are destined to have the opportunity to receive them and destined to have to choose, one way or the other. But as we find in the parable the choices are based on the many conditions of the heart.
Some hearts are stony and hard and nothing sticks. Some hearts are filled with temporary enthusiasms – excited one moment but not deep enough to have staying power. Other hearts are capable of receiving the seed of the sower but competing concerns and preoccupations crowd out the flourishing of the Spirit. In the right moment of grace the rich earth of the mind and heart host the seed of the Spirit in such a way that it may grow and bear fruit.

That, of course, becomes our guiding image for the life of prayer and the life faith: We ready the ground of our spiritual selves to receive God’s sowing of the Spirit. We mulch and plow and weed and fertilize and water. We tend our priorities and guard against influences that choke out the spirit. All of this is the work of faith preparing the way of the Spirit.

The faster, busier, the more electronically driven we become, the more this is a challenge. So much competes for the attention of our minds and hearts.

The less time we have for quiet contemplation and unhurried relationships and the more we believe we must do to earn our place in the sun, the more that the sown seed of God within us has a hard way of taking root.

Tending the soul is hard business.

This week Kathy received a disappointing report in terms of her health. The cancer was out of remission and she needed to begin a different treatment regime, which she did. We’ve been there before, at the point of bad news, and when it comes, as a way to just settle our minds and hearts and spirits we often take drives through the back countryside.

These drives have no destination in mind; we wander aimlessly, puttering across the rolling farmland, winding through little towns that time forgot. We’re driving toward nowhere in particular, away from something, toward something. We chat about nothing. We keep silent. We look at the places where events transpired 150 years ago. We talk about faith and what we need to do, how we need to keep our spirits dialed on God. All that, more or less.

So this week, departing the hospital and most recent episode in our drama, we decided to take one of our drives. It was late afternoon so we just angled westward, roughly following the setting sun. There is something comforting about finding livestock lolling about in grassy fields, small towns that move along pretty much as they have for generations. Kids play in the streets and older people chat over the fence between their yards.

We were creeping through one town, a town that didn’t even have a stop light. And as we moved out and away toward the next stretch of highway we noticed flashing lights. It was a patrol car. Surely not. We were just creeping along. If we were walking you would say we were taking a stroll. But it had to be us; we were the only car in sight. So I pulled over to the side of the road, pulled out my license and waited.

After a while the patrolman came up to retrieve my license, lights flashing full bore in this itty bitty town with no other cars in sight. To me this fine young man looked like he just graduated from high school. His newly issued blue uniform looked like he took it off the rack two weeks ago. Everything was shiny and nice. I knew this young man had to be in his first job as a policeman, the only law in the area. I also knew he probably couldn’t get a job in any of the larger municipalities around. This was his starter job. And someday, with some more experience, maybe he could escape and find something better that paid better and gave him a better car than the old cruiser they issued him.

He asked us where we were going. We looked at each other and I said, “Well, we’re just taking a drive. We’ll see how far we get by sundown.” He nodded and said, “Sir, I have you going 42 in a 30.” “Really,” I said. “That is surprising.” He went back to the cab again and ran his report.

In the meantime we are just sitting there, thinking about how unlikely this scenario really is, that we would just leave the announcement of an unpleasant diagnosis and drive to this place to get a ticket out in the middle of nowhere. I said to Kathy, “I think you would call this ironic.”

At that, and I’m not exactly sure why except that it was so ironic, we started giggling like little school girls. And we laughed until we cried, all the way up until that young officer came back to our car.

And after he showed us the ticket and had me sign it, and explained the ways we could pay, I said to him “I’d like to tell you a story, but it doesn’t have anything to do with you.” He listened.

I said, “We’ve just come from the hospital in Columbia, from a very disappointing appointment in which we found out that my wife’s cancer is back. And so we took this drive, you see, like we do. And so you have to understand that in this moment, under these circumstances, receiving a ticket for doing 42 in a 30 isn’t much of a big deal for us.”

And he looked in at tearful Kathy and stood for a moment absolutely speechless, this poor guy who was probably counting the hours when he could get off and forget about duty in that little town. And he finally said, “Well, like I said you can mail your ticket in to this address. Now, keep safe out there.” He walked back to his car and we pulled slowly out onto the country road again.

A sower went out to sow. Some of the seed fell on the rock where the birds snatched it up, other on shallow soil where it sprouted quickly but could not endure the scorching sun, other into good soil but among thorns that crowded and strangled it. And some fell into rich soil where it grew and became bountiful.

There is much in this this life that can leave us bankrupt, empty and even shattered. There are cares and concerns and losses that may undo what has taken years to create or build. And the poverty of our faith and hearts often becomes conspicuous in the presence of the deepest threats to our existence.
In all of this we have must know how God’s grace is perpetually seeded among us in the most astounding ways, how it grows in precarious conditions and is persistent in its germination. The task of tending our souls is more like a farmer tending the field than anything else, the farmer, the sower, who trusts enough in the seed and its growth that he casts handfuls of seed into the wind and onto uncertain ground with no more than faith and trust.

We have to trust in God’s determination to continue casting seed in the face of every absurdity and adversity. If God so loves and strives over and over to fulfill the potential of this seed, seeing and hoping on the great harvest, can we not love back in equal and heartfelt measure?

The good news is that seed is resilient in the toughest of situations. The challenge is that we remain vigilant, hearts open, rich, and ready for the sowing of God’s presence among and within us. This alone is our hope.

During the recent Stalcup Lecture at Broadway Christian Church in Columbia, Missouri, Dr. Joretta Marshall walked us through the forest of forgiveness. There were tall trees there as well as undergrowth. For Christians and other people of faith the issue of forgiveness is generally a central one; an understanding of God’s grace and forgiveness leads to the imperative for us to forgive others. It is embedded in the Lord’s Prayer, this mutuality of forgiveness.

But just because we know how important forgiveness is that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Forgiveness is hard business, as any of us know who have tried to practice it. The deeper the hurt the longer and more complex the process of forgiveness becomes. And as Joretta brought to our minds, forgiveness is not so much a thing as a process into which one enters. The willingness, the desire to enter that process is the thing.

Thornier aspects surface when one feels the tension between forgiveness and reconciliation. Just because one is able to internally forgive that does not necessarily mean that reconciliation with the other party has occurred. Indeed, they are not often available or willing to enter into a process of reconciliation.

And what about the relationship between justice and forgiveness? If one forgives does that mean that the need for justice making disappears? Is it possible to forgive too soon, prematurely, before justice has been sought and even engaged? And what if no agreement as to wrongs is possible? Can two parties agree to disagree on the details of history and still be willing to release, forgive and start over?

When we forgive others we release ourselves from a muddy path of resentment that weighs down the soul. When we are forgiven we are released from the guilt or shame that bleeds the soul. And in the best case scenario forgiveness repairs the breaches in the wall, makes a new future possible, and is the source of liberation, renewal and hope.

You might call it an after session. After regular Sunday evening services at the Word of Life Christian Church in New Hartford, N.Y., parents convened a little beating to bring their sons back into conformity. Problem was that the all night savaging ended up with one dead and another in the hospital. I’m sure this thrilled Jesus.

The spiritual sadism manifested itself through a kind of gauntlet of family and church members all taking turns administering the discipline. That’s a very unique form of counseling. Or membership retention.

You see, sometimes religion gets really, really sick. Or more accurately, sometimes sick people show up and hijack religion to sanctify their evil, their pathology.

And that is why there is no such thing as an absolute freedom of religion. You are free to practice your choice of religion, even have that right protected, unless you are violating people and breaking other superior laws as a result. Every single “right” within the Bill of Rights has its limits. That includes religion. Especially when religion gets sick.

We are experiencing a crisis in American culture; the inner wounding of veterans who have not been adequately welcomed home, healed and returned to a meaningful part of society. The past dozen years of multiple deployments in both Afghanistan and Iraq have resulted in deep combat stress for those who have served. American citizens, regardless of where they stand on issues of war and peace or what attitudes they hold toward the veracity of any war in particular, are detached from those they have sent on their behalf. They do not know how to really help.

One of the recent attempts to reach out to these highly at risk veterans is All the Way Home. This community of humanitarian citizens and people of faith are building networks of mentors, small healing circles and educational events to reach the public at large.

Please consider linking their site to your own and passing it on to veterans, their families and those working with them!

In the ever-repeating story of catapult related violence a weary public is reacting with fear and grief.

“It’s understandable.” said Rocky Ballista, Executive Director of the NCA (The National Catapult Association), “When people feel scared they automatically want to assign blame to the most convenient target, forgive my pun. The most common knee-jerk reaction of late is to single out catapults as the problem. Everyone knows that catapults don’t kill people. People kill people. Blaming catapults for these terrible tragedies is just unfair.”

Catapults, developed by the ancient Greeks and Romans, hurl large objects great distances, generally during siege.

When asked if catapults don’t actually escalate violence Ballista replied, “The same madman could kill those people with a slingshot, if so motivated. If you want to lay siege to a building, a fortress, even an outdoor amphitheater, you’ll find a way. We need to get to the reasons the violence is committed in the first place.”

Responding to issues surrounding catapult laws that govern their sale, purchase and ownership, Ballista said,. “We don’t need to the change the catapult laws. We simply need to enforce the catapult laws we already have on the books.” The NCA officially opposes an further restrictions on catapults, citing 2nd Amendment rights to own and operate catapults. “It is our position that we would have safer communities if all of our citizens owned catapults. Imagine the deterrent effect if all of our citizens displayed their catapults in their front yards … with proper permits, of course.”

A young couple experiments with their own homemade catapult

A young couple experiments with their own homemade catapult

With intensifying gang activity involving catapult violence, drive by bombardments and mini-sieges, the public has become increasingly alarmed. “You can get a catapult almost anywhere,” said a teary Mable Drawstring, head of her neighborhood watch. “If you don’t buy them on the black market you get the plans on the net and make your own. My next door neighbors were making one in their back yard yesterday. They just don’t care how the rest of us feel.”

“Do you want the bad guys to be the only ones armed?” asked Ballista. “Look, regulating catapults is not going to make us a bit safer. Face it, when catapults are outlawed, only outlaws will have catapults.”

As the alarming statistics went public, the number of veteran suicides, many of us rose to a difficult occasion: We recognized how the society that sends veterans to places and situations where they are killed, wounded, or left with invisible wounds of the soul has little ability to welcome them all the way home. Our military does an admirable job of preparing a volunteer military to achieve their goals. But we, the ones who ultimately send, do not receive or receive well. We lack the ways and mechanisms to foster healing, reintegration and finding a new purpose after military service. It is a community challenge for which we are all responsible.

To this end we have created a network of care that we call All the Way Home. Our mission is to reach out with an equipped group of mentors, the availability of healing circles, and education for the community at large.

I encourage you to stroll through our website and also pass on to veterans, family members of veterans, those who work with veterans, and to interested people in general.

Not all wounds are visible. Thanks be to God that healing is available.