Telling the Stories that Matter: November 30 – Andrew, Apostle, Protocletos, Martyr

“Come on, Peter,” Andrew called, “we have too much work to do to stay here any longer.” Andrew and Peter were on their way to the shore to continue fishing and working the sea. With net and boat, they ventured daily into a great terror–a sea where storms killed men and refused to supply fish and sustenance. In the first century, the waters could be a very risky and intimidating place to be. Yet, Andrew went there regularly to support himself and his family. But on the walk, that day, Andrew wanted to talk about the figure that he and Peter had been talking to, recently. Andrew was inspired and vivified by the presence and words of John and found himself spending more and more time out in the wilderness with the wild man who proclaimed a new and imminent Kingdom and baptized people for the remission of their sins. One day, Andrew had gone forward to John and been baptized because of his intense and growing passion for the Kingdom of God. Peter had heard Andrew say much about John but there was something different in his voice. Recently, another man had come and John had seemed to be gripped by the same rapturous amazement that so many of John’s audience felt in John’s presence. Then–much to John’s confusion–the man had requested to be baptized by John. John baptized the one he called “the Lamb of God” and “Jesus” but he insisted that Jesus should be baptizing John. Andrew had shaken his head in confusion and uneasiness but his heart had burned within him as he watched Jesus be baptized.There was something different about this one–this one that John said he had been preparing everybody for.

“Do you think this Jesus could be the one?” Andrew asked Peter while casting the nets over the side of the boat, “I mean…do you think this one could be the messiah?”Peter was about to respond when Andrew saw Jesus standing on the shore nearby. Jesus waved to them and indicated that they should come in as he had something to say. Andrew looked to Peter and noticed that Peter was already taking in the nets and preparing the boat to return to land. When they got there, Jesus was smiling at them and asked them how they were doing with their fishing. They responded but they were waiting to see what this potential messiah might say to confirm or deny their hopeful suspicions.

“Follow after me, Andrew and Peter, and I will make you a different kind of fisherman–a fisher of people.” Andrew’s heart jumped in his chest and he suddenly knew what his only response could be: yes. Peter soon followed and the two became apostles and members of “the Twelve.” They began following after Jesus and learning how to cast nets of words and actions that could catch people in them. They were learning to be what it was that Jesus called them to be. Andrew was, by no means, always faithful or given to believing but he continued to come back to the one that he had learned to trust. It was Andrew who said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fishes: but what are these among so many?” His question is a question that so many of us ask in so many ways in our daily lives. What difference does a little help make when compared to such great need? When there are thousands dying every day from hunger, does my little bit of help do anything? When there are wars and rumors of wars surrounding us, does my stance for peace do anything? Jesus knew, however, that the little could be made to be sufficient and that it mattered deeply both for the giver and the recipient. It is this lesson that Andrew learned that day when he gathered in the fragments of fish and bread with awe written across his face.

Andrew would follow Jesus in mission after Jesus’ death and resurrection and become a missionary to people who had never heard the good news of mercy and grace for all sinners. He would preach a gospel that mattered even if the nets of the faith only gathered one person at a time. Over time, this meant that thousands came to know faith in and fellowship with Almighty God because of the faith of one fisherman. Years after Jesus’ death, Andrew also would be martyred. His final request was that his crucifixion should not mimic his Lord’s because he didn’t feel worthy even to die like his Lord.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 24 – Columban, Monk, Missionary, Voluntary Refugee

Columban was born in Nobber, Ireland–in the County of Meath–and grew into a competent and attractive young man.He was so attractive that women noticed him passing by through the towns and on the roads and began to seek him out. He became something of a local celebrity on account of his appearance and he was distressed by the steady decreases of his private life as more and more women sought him out to have him as their own. Columban received a piece of advice: flee from temptation so that you cannot succumb to it. In this advice, Columban saw hope and promise–he had always dreamed of becoming a monk and living a life of retreat and prayer and this path offered that opportunity.

So, Columban decided to flee from the temptations of an overly sexual existence and join a monastery. But, when he had packed his things and was headed to the door, his mother stopped him and begged him not to go. He insisted that he felt a call toward the monastic life but his mother refused to listen. She pleaded with him to stay again and again he insisted on following God’s call. In desperation, Colulmban’s mother laid down in the doorway to prevent her son from leaving. Columban struggled with what to do: should he concede to his mother’s wishes or should he follow the call he felt on his life. He looked at his mother and made his decision. He stepped over his dear mother and left her behind to follow after the calling God had placed on his life.

After some time as a monk and after he had become a noted speaker and counselor, he was appointed a missionary to a foreign land. The Roman empire had fallen only a few generations prior but the people of continental Europe still saw the outlying regions–such as Ireland–to be a barbarous place devoid of education or sense. The very idea of an Irish missionary to France was unthinkable to the French Christians–they were a people who sent missionaries not who received missionaries. Yet, this is where Columban and twelve others arrived. In France, they found a sickly and anemic Faith that subsisted on dead ritual and vague memories of spirituality. This was a mind bending experience for the Irish missionaries who knew that the Irish had received their faith from the world they now ministered to. They were bringing the faith that had been brought to them back to the ones who had sent it.They were met with a mixture of resistance and open arms. Many found the Irish spirituality to be an oasis in a dry and dusty land. There were many who ended up being guided by Columban to follow in the footsteps of Patrick who had been one of them (having been born in Roman Britain) but had gone to provide sustenance to the Irish who had enslaved him. In essence, Columban brought back spiritual sustenance to a people who had forgotten that they had stored it away in Ireland.

Eventually, they were met with resistance from local rulers and became enemies of the King of Burgundy. It seems that the Frankish bishops and leaders were uncomfortably with the Irish being in a seat of authority. They held on to their memories and nostalgia instead of drinking deeply from the cool waters Columban brought with him. They were forced to flee from their monastery and became voluntary refugees who lived by charity and good fortune. Eventually, they walked across the Alps to Milan and were received gladly. Columban would spend the remainder of his days far away from the formative places of his childhood in Ireland and in a land that God had called him to–regardless of the cost.

from Blogger

Telling the Stories that Matter: November 18 – Romanus of Caesarea, Martyr, Encourager, Proclaimer

Romanus was a deacon at the church in Caesarea. He was also a thorn in the side of the Roman rulers and leaders. He had encouraged the Christians in Caesarea to constantly remember their first allegiance was to God and not to Rome. This attracted the kind of Imperial attention that was generally avoided by the Roman populace. Romanus was not afraid of whatever the Empire might threaten or do but was still sent to another congregation–this one in Antioch–when persecutions increased in Caesarea. As he arrived in Antioch, he met a congregation that was gripped by dread of the Emperor’s legions and power. They knew all too well what happened to people like Romanus and the people that Romanus led.

The governor of Antioch–Asklepiades–had made it known that he was considering the destruction of the Christian house of worship. Romanus spoke tenderly to the people of his congregation and called them to stand in support of one another and their common bond in brotherhood and sisterhood as the Body of Christ. “If we deter the governor from this evil, then the Church everywhere will join with us in celebration,” he said, “and if we fail and he slaughters us in our defense of the Church, then the heavenly Church will welcome us in as sons and daughters of God baptized again in blood.” The people joined Romanus in protesting the governor’s plans and prepared for the expected retaliation. Instead, the governor was deterred by their unwavering solidarity and commitment.

A little while later, Romanus was shocked to see that there was yet another festival being held in the streets of Antioch. Idols lined the streets and enthused worshipers were prostrate before many of them. The festival was in high gear when Romanus took up a position on a corner to preach the Gospel. Along with the Gospel, he denounced the idols as sinful distractions from the one true God. The crowds railed against him and threatened him yet he did not cease his preaching. Eventually, he was arrested to keep the peace. When the governor realized who had had finally seized, he took his opportunity to put an end to this annoyance. He had him bound and tied to a stake in the middle of the city. They whipped and beat him in the sight of the many people there. Finally, they prepared to burn him alive at the stake. As they were setting the fire, a harsh rain storm descended upon the city and the fire was extinguished. Romanus laughed loudly–though bleeding and beaten from the torture–and continued to proclaim the Gospel to the angry crowd. “Could your idols not keep away a single storm?” he asked the crowd. The governor had his tongue ripped out.With wordless utterances he sang hymns and continued to preach as he bled yet more profusely. Finally, he was strangled to death with the words of the Gospel and hope upon his blood-stained lips.

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Telling the Stories that Matter: November 4 – Soren Kierkegaard, Philosopher, Christian Opponent of Christendom

Soren was born to a wealthy man and his maid in Copenhagen, Denmark in the early 19th century. Soren’s mother had an indubitable effect upon his outlook yet is conspicuously absent from his later writings. Perhaps this is because Soren’s father–Michael–was such an enigmatic and powerful figure.Michael had an incredible impact upon Soren and would enter into his later writings with force and a distinct voice as Soren struggled with the hardest questions he could find armed only with ink and paper. Michael clearly felt that he had lived a life worthy of punishment and fully expected the punishment for his own sins to be visited upon his children. It is likely that he suffered under this feeling for most of his life and remained haunted by it even as his wife and some of his children died before expected. The effect that this had on Soren must not be underestimated and it brought a fierce passion into his writing and analysis. Further, it filled him with an existential dread that likely helped to launch a whole system of philosophical thought.

Soren received an excellent education because of his father’s wealth yet this only happened because it was a sizable inheritance left to him and his family after Michael’s death. As Michael lie dying on his bed, he expressed to Soren that his great wish was that Soren might become a pastor and serve the people of God as a leader and minister. Indeed, Soren felt obligated to acquiesce to his father’s desire and attended school and studied Latin, history, and theology. Yet, it became increasingly clear that God had another calling for Soren. Soren would be a Christian leader but would do so by attacking the Church he alternately loved and despised even as his older brother became a pastor (later, a bishop). Carrying the burdenthat his father had carried, Soren was overwhelmed with angst and confusion brought about by the disparity between the ideal and the real.

He met a beautiful woman named Regine and was immediately struck breathless by her. Apparently, she was attracted to him as well. They courted for some time before Soren enthusiastically proposed to her. She gladly accepted and they began planning a wedding. It seemed that Soren was never as happy as when he was with his beloved Regine. Yet, he was haunted by a feeling that he was unfit for such happiness. The high calling of the ideal made his melancholy even more bitter and he broke off the engagement a little over a year after he proposed. He regretted it for the rest of his life. Soren felt himself unfit for marriage and perhaps unfit for happiness. Consequently, he became so.

Soren’s philosophical career is especially notable. His works have had an inestimable impact upon all of Western philosophy and countless students who become enamored with the ideas he laid out in his meticulously clear writing. His devotion to “what should be” in the face of “what is” constantly drew his vision upward and he guided countless others to look skyward as they considered calling and the way things should be. He sparred with the likes of Hegel and Socrates with little fear but much trepidation. His work was appreciated in his lifetime and his thoughts laid the groundwork for all of existential psychology.

Soren was a vocal critic of Christendom as the end of his life approached. It was not Christianity that he lampooned with his pen but churches that operated as morgues and social clubs. His fury with the Danish State Church can be felt fresh and hot as one reads over his critiques and outrage. He insisted that there was no value in community if the individuals were dehumanized. In other words, simple communion of faceless people was worthless. Rather, community found value in uniting the separate and different without stripping them of their uniqueness. Soren cringed at the thought of a Church that expected everyone to look the same and sound the same. Soren saw this for what it was–conversion to another gospel and conversion away from Jesus who proclaimed release for captives and sight for the blind. An indifferent group of people was no community but, rather, a collection of those who had turned over their selves to escape their dread and anxiety. As Soren lanced his opponents, he lanced himself. He was painfully aware of his own dread and melancholy and the burden it was to him. Yet, he continued to push forward and look upward for “that which should be” instead of settling for “that which is” and mediocrity of spirit.

Soren died in 1855 and was buried by the Church he had opposed and railed against.

from Blogger

Carl, Tasha, and Misplaced Chains

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“I could probably quit, too, if I really wanted to do it,” Carl told me over one of our many meals together. As a dozen small conversations floated around us, this particular conversation suddenly felt especially important. We were celebrating Bruce’s first full year of sobriety and giving thanks for the good works God had done in our midst, so it seemed likely that maybe Bruce’s landmark was making Carl think about his own addictions. We’d been eating with Carl in our homes and hanging out with him in the neighborhood for many months. We had prayed with and for him many times, praying not only for his health and safety, but also for his freedom from the substances that made him a slave.

“Yes, you could,” Carl’s wife Tasha interjected. Tasha had addictions and challenges of her own, but she and Carl had stuck by each other through so many of them. As an interracial couple, Carl and Tasha had faced even more challenges than other couples struggling with addiction. “Let’s do it together,” Tasha insisted, “I know if we tried together, we could do it.” Placing her hand on Carl’s arm, Tasha pleaded with her eyes for a little courage and hope from her husband. It looked like the beginning of a beautiful work of God’s liberating love in our midst even as we celebrated a different one. Nodding along with Tasha, I waited quietly for Carl’s reaction.

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“But I don’t want to quit,” Carl insisted to my and Tasha’s disappointment. Turning to Tasha, he continued, “You don’t want to quit either.” Suffice to say, that’s not how I thought things would go.

For another couple of years, we would pray and hang out with Carl and Tasha through good times and bad. When Tasha was clean for several days at a time, we’d celebrate because all freedom—no matter how long or short its tenure—is a good thing. We helped Carl find some work to do here and there when he could manage it. Both times they decided to move, we helped them take their things to the new place and listened to Tasha talk about how this place would be different. When Tasha was released from the hospital, it was one of our hospitality house doors where Carl and Tasha came to ask for a ride home. We ate with them, we laughed with them, and we cried with them. Carl may not have wanted to quit—may not then have been able to cultivate the hope that he could be free—but he wanted family and we were glad to call him ours, as he was glad to call us his.

For years, we tried everything we could think of to help Carl take those first steps toward freedom. We tried every key we knew to unlock the chains of addiction in our brother’s life. Countless prayers, long conversations, offers of help and support, frustrated and blunt honesty, and a host of other approaches—even Tasha’s earnest efforts—seemed unsuccessful in loving Carl into recovery. We kept praying, but I didn’t have much hope that the story would change.

Sometimes—not often but always surprisingly—people don’t break their chains, but just slip out of them when nobody is looking.

2015-08-02 20.21.51One day while we walked the neighborhood and checked in on a handful of folks, Carl nonchalantly announced to one of us that he had quit using about a week ago. We were so far away from hoping for what he was confessing that we didn’t quite understand what he meant at first. We asked him to repeat himself and he confirmed that he had quit a week previous and added, “I was just done. I didn’t want to anymore.” After years of obedience to the idol of addiction, Carl just walked away, quietly going through withdrawals with Tasha. We celebrated with him and asked him, incredulously, what had made the difference—what made him want to change. He shrugged and said, “I was just ready to be done and ready to feel better.”

We didn’t convince Carl to quit, but the chains fell off anyway. We loved him as best we could and tried to find ways to make room for him and Tasha in our little community. Sometimes, God doesn’t call us to unlock the locks and tear the chains off God’s beloved. Sometimes, God calls us just to love them where they are and wait for the chains to rust away from exposure to God’s furious and pervasive love. Last week, Carl completed his first full year of sobriety. He has a couple of jobs, a bicycle, a fairly secure place to live, and is active in our community in a few different ways. With his jobs and his lack of addiction, he has money to buy bus fare for him and Tasha to go different places in the city and have their own dates and adventures. It turns out that you can go a lot farther after the chains fall off, even if you still have to carry somebody.

When Carl arrives on Sunday night to pray and sing, he is eager to talk about what’s going on in the city and at Grace and Main. Of course, he also wants to know the score of the Cowboys game if it hasn’t finished yet. He’s proud to be free, he’s proud to have a big family, and he’s proud to be a part of our work at the Urban Farm and around the neighborhood. But, he’s most eager and proud to tell us about how Tasha is doing. Sometimes, he brags on how many days it’s been since she’s used, while others it’s bragging about how next time is going to be the time. “I know she can do it,” he insists, “I know we can do it together.”

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