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Goodbye Billy Graham

Billy Graham has died.  It seems as if he has been around forever.  And in my life, he has been around forever.  I am not young anymore and, yet, Billy has always been there.  I never met him.  I was never in the same audience with him.  I never went to a revival where he was the speaker.  I know some communities sponsored revivals supported by Graham and I was never a part of one of these.  I saw him numerous times on tv.  I have certainly seen him on the news so many times I could not count.  He has been around forever.  And now he is dead. 

He died at age 99.  Billy Graham was born in 1918 as WW I was concluding.  Billy was a North Carolina farmer’s son.  That southern accent was riveting.  He was a Southern Baptist, but became larger than the evangelical tradition, although it could be argued he never left it theologically.  He came into his own through the technology of the twentieth century.  He had a powerful radio presence and was a towering tv personality.  Often he was haile…

Fecundity of the Normal

Sometimes I know I am using a word that college students would not know.  Fecundity is one such word.  Rather than choosing not to use it because they don’t know what it means, I choose to use it and teach them what it means.  I figure I am educating them!  I am helping them build their vocabulary, thereby increasing the likelihood that they will be more attractive job candidates when they are out there in the “real world.”

Fecundity means fruitfulness.  It is often used when speaking of plants.  It always makes me think of harvest time.  When it is applied to people, it could indicate a very productive or successful time.  It could suggest the outcome of hard work.  It might implicate a very talented individual who applied the talent to pull off significant outcomes.  There have been times in my life, which were fecund.  But it is not all the time.  Growing up on a farm taught me that it is not always harvest season.  Often there is a great deal of hard work and, even, waiting before…

Return to the Heart

It is not unusual in the realm of spirituality to talk about the heart.  One can even say it is central to understanding who we are.  Just as our physical bodies cannot last very long without the beating of our hearts, so we can conclude spiritually can’t last too long without attending to the heart.  With this in mind, I thought it would be instructive to turn to some of my favorite authors to see how they describe the heart.  I invite you to join me in hearing them speak about the heart.

We can no better than begin with some words from the Hebrew Bible---words that are planted deep in the Jewish soul.  And all of us Christians should be very familiar with these words from Deuteronomy.  In Judaism these words form what is known as the Shema---from the first word of the quotation, “hear.”  The Deurteronomist says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”  (6:4-5)  If we kno…

A Sheltered Life

I am fairly certain people who only see the title of this inspirational piece will misunderstand what I plan to do.  Typically, we think about shelters in a two-fold way.  In the first place shelters are those designated places people can go to in times of danger.  Hurricanes and tornadoes will send people to shelters.  Often the shelters are schools, maybe the local YMCA or military building.  Shelters are designed to put us in safer places than our houses and work places.  The second meaning of shelters suggests places of incarceration.  It is where we send troubled teens in order to protect the community and the teen himself or herself.  In this piece I don’t have either place of shelter in mind.

Instead, I recall the opening line of the Psalm used in the last worship of the day monks have in their Liturgy of the Hours.  The monks call this last worship Compline---which means to complete the day.  For centuries monks followed the suggestion found in one of the Psalms that they worsh…

The Function of Faith

I recently had the occasion to re-read parts of a book that I enjoyed years ago.  I picked up Sharon Daloz Parks’ book, Big Questions, Worthy Dreams, first published in 2000.  In essence the book deals with the question how people---and especially young people---think about faith and the role faith plays in helping people make sense out of their lives.  She spends a good amount of time in her second chapter helping the reader understand just what that word, faith, means.  Of course, it is a word used by most of us in many different contexts. 

If we are religious, we probably think faith is the common way to talk about how we believe there is a God and, probably, somehow God loves us, protects us, and wants the very best for us.  She captures well the old-fashioned meaning of faith with which I grew up.  Faith “is the assumption that it is essentially static.  You have it or you don’t.”  As a kid, I remember the people who would go to a revival service and “get it.”  They believed; the…

Doing the Impossible

On the surface the title of this inspirational reflection makes little sense.  Why would any person with brains want to do the impossible?  Most of us know that sometimes doing the possible is hard enough!  Why would you try to do the impossible?  And likely fail?  I think I would have agreed with this until I read an interesting little account in a book by my friend, Parker Palmer.

I have been using one of Palmer’s books, The Active Life, in one of my classes.  The subtitle of the book gives you a good sense of its focus: A Spirituality of Work, Creativity and Caring.  It is not his best book, but the content matches something I try to help students and adults think about in their normal lives.  Many of us think monks and nuns can live a spiritual life.  They have made special arrangements in life so that being spiritual becomes their full-time job.  But the rest of us in the “real” world have it much harder.  Routine life gets in the way of being spiritual.

Palmer helps me and other…

Thoughts on Lent

For the western Christian tradition (all those who are not Greek or Russian Orthodox, etc.), this week brings us the season of Lent.  As usual, my childhood memory of Lent is non-existent.  Basically, Quakers did not observe Lent.  It is not so much that we were against it as that it was not necessary.  Quakers are a funny bunch.  At least originally, they sought to be serious about their faith on a daily basis.  I still find that laudable.  So it meant they were not inclined to set aside days and periods when a Christian should be more serious and others days and seasons when they could lighten up.

On the surface, I still agree with my Quaker heritage.  However, I also know the downside of that heritage is that it could produce the sour, dour Quaker who took everything so seriously that there was no longer any spice to life.  There was no reason to laugh and, maybe even, celebrate things.  To be chronically serious is probably neurotic or worse.  So I have tried to give…