Telling the Stories that Matter: September 19 – Rich Mullins, Singer, Songwriter, Kid Brother of Francis

Rich Mullins, the son of a mid-western farmer and his Quaker wife, was born in Indiana but traveled much throughout the course of his life. He attended Quaker services with regularity but his own spiritual pedigree is muddy at best–just how Rich would like it. He had connections to Quakers, Methodists, Baptists, and Roman Catholics among yet even more congregations. On more than one occasion, Rich advocated a certain kind of spiritual authenticity that seemed to make denominational divides and distinctions that once seemed so important and daunting to fade away into a kind of inconsequential haziness. Rich wanted to follow Jesus and didn’t really care what that meant he was called or how others might identify him. At a very young age, his great-grandmother gave him a gift that he would spend the rest of his life giving to the world–she taught him to play piano and started his musical development. He took to it with a prodigious amount of natural talent and was an accompanist for a local, touring congregational choir. Rich attended several different schools while he studied music as a young adult but didn’t stay in any one school for very long. It was always clear that his first passion was the Lord Jesus who loved him. It is his second passion for which he is best known: honest and soul-searching music that glorifies God.

Shortly after earning his B.A. in Music Education from Friends University in Wichita, Kansas, he moved to Tse Bonito, New Mexico, with his dear friend Mitch McVicker. He already had a remarkably successful career as both a singer and a songwriter. He had two hit songs that were fast becoming popular praise choruses and had released a few albums to much critical acclaim. After reading Brennan Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel, Rich was so touched by the text that he named his new band “The Ragamuffin Band.” They were in high demand in Christian music circles and it seemed that his career was set to “take off” even further. If this were the story of most men, then we’d expect to hear more of awards and material gains but Rich had moved to Tse Bonito to live on a Navajo reservation and teach music to the children that he met there. Though his performances were regularly sold out, Rich never accepted more than $24,000 a year as a salary. Instead, he gave over every check he received to his accountant. Rich’s accountant paid Rich the salary of the average “working person” in the United States and gave the rest away as per Rich’s instructions. Rich turned down the world’s brand of success to follow after his Lord Jesus like his hero Francis of Assisi had done. Rich cast aside the world’s gains because he recognized them for what they were: weights around his neck as he tried to ascend into God’s presence.

Rich and Mitch McVicker were headed north on I-39 from Bloomington, Illinois, on September 19th in the year 1997. They were headed to a benefit concert in Wichita, Kansas. The jeep flipped for some uncertain reason and the two men were thrown from the vehicle as a tractor-trailer truck bore down upon their wrecked jeep. Both were badly injured from their wreck but Rich would be killed when the truck veered to one side to avoid the wrecked jeep and killed Rich instantly. Mitch was seriously injured but he survived the wreck. Rich died only days after having recorded an album on micro-cassette in an abandoned church. The Ragamuffin Band had been there and Rich had recorded it so that they could hear the ten songs that Rich wanted to include on the next album (entitled “The Jesus Record”). This final recording had none of the professional editing so common in music but still communicated the authenticity and passion that Rich had for God and for his music. Even though Rich died, the band went on to record “The Jesus Record” and release it not only with a copy of Rich’s final recording but, also, with a tribute album where Rich’s part was played by Christian musicians who had been friends and admirers of Rich. In the end, you can’t help but wonder if Rich might not have preferred it that way–God getting the glory, his friends serving God, and Rich being allowed to hang on for the ride.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2wtN9zh

Advertisements

Telling the Stories that Matter: September 15 – Martyrs of Birmingham

It was just barely past 10:20 a.m. on Sunday morning when the children made their way downstairs. They had just finished listening to the pastor’s sermon: “The Love That Forgives.” Perhaps their minds dwelt on the incredible calling that the pastor’s sermon placed on the lives of those who followed after Jesus–love your enemies so much that you can’t help but forgive them? Sure, maybe that stuff worked for Jesus but it would be so hard for a black person in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963. This was the city where dogs and hoses had been turned on peaceful demonstrators. This was the city often described as the “most segregated” city in all of the nation. This was the city of “Bull” Connor who, in response to Brown v. Board of Education had said, “You’re going to have bloodshed, and it’s on them [the Supreme Court], not us.” They were supposed to learn to love and forgive these people?

As they gathered in the basement of 16th Street Baptist Church their minds might have only been concerned with what fun the teacher might have in mind for them. Perhaps they were focused on what everybody else was wearing and doing. We know that one little girl had asked another older girl to help tie her belt–it must have been coming undone. In this sanctuary–this haven from the hate and destruction of the world–where they tried to worship and follow after a crucified and abuse Lord, they were not as scared as they were used to being. For a brief moment, perhaps, they felt some respite and comfort in the basement of this place. Then it happened.

A bomb–nineteen sticks of dynamite–went off.

The cement and glass of the basement wall became a horrible mess of shrapnel and death. One poor girl was so thoroughly mutilated by the blast that she was unrecognizable to all but her father who knew her by the ring she wore. One child’s eyes were lacerated and filled with glass. How does one adequately describe a singular blast of indiscriminate hatred that murders children in a church basement in cold blood? Regardless, it is a powerful testament of the conversion of the bombers to the wide way that leads unto destruction.

As people flocked to the site of the bombing, they soon found out that four children had been killed and over twenty other people had been injured physically. The amount of emotional, mental, and spiritual wounds on that day cannot–and perhaps should not–be quantified. That was a day when hatred and darkness struck out and caused inestimable damage. As the gathering crowd looked up, only one stained glass window had not been blown out in the blast: an image of Jesus gathering the little children unto himself. The face and head of Jesus had been blown off by the blast but the remainder of the image stood as an eerie statement about where Jesus was in the blast–about who else the bombers were bombing.


This event–the martyrdom of four little girls (Denise McNair, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Addie Mae Collins)–would demonstrate the brutality and evil of the kind of people who would be willing to bomb a church and children because of their own fear and ignorance. The four men who were eventually implicated in the plot (three of whom were found guilty, one died before being charged) remain nameless here because it is best that the world forget their stories entirely. They thought they were doing it to protect themselves and their families from integration of black citizens with white citizens. All they did was further show the world what it was that they truly believed in: a supposed gospel of peace and happiness through domination, destruction, and willful power.

As one of the men was led away after being found guilty, he was asked if he had anything to say. He retorted: “I guess the good Lord will settle it on judgment day.” Of this, I have no doubt but, perhaps it is most fitting to remember the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. in response to this atrocity:

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city….And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here, that in spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

This was the “Love that Forgives.” This was, truly, the seed of redemption that brought about integration and healing. This was the spirit of conversion that leads unto God.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2jut7P0

Telling the Stories that Matter: September 8 – Peter Claver, Servant of Slaves, Jesuit, Priest


Peter could hear the call of the sailors at the docks. He knew what their calls and the sudden bustle of business men moving toward the harbor meant: yet another slave ship was arriving in Cartagena. He quickly gathered up his bundle of food and drink and wrapped it in the blankets he had ready. He put these things in his cart and joined the hustling masses as they made their way to the harbor to process the slaves who had just now arrived in Cartagena having descended into agony months prior. Slavers brought in approximately 1000 slaves a month to Cartagena in order to keep up with demand. Because of the high interest, this was a very profitable route. However, because of the casualty rate on their ships (due to malnutrition, hygiene, and general abuse), they packed more and more men and women onto their ships to “cover their losses.” The African men and women had become a commodity that was poorly treated but highly demanded.

Peter approached the captain before any slaves could be brought into the marketplace and used his status as a priest to persuade him to let him come aboard. The captain knew this priest well and had no affection for him–Peter was well known as a “slave sympathizer”–but he could not openly refuse a priest’s acts of compassion and mercy in front of such a crowd. Peter climbed aboard the ship and descended to the cargo hold. There, he was the first white face that many of these slaves would look upon since leaving Africa. He quickly worked to demonstrate his love to them. He helped removed the bodies of the deceased. He learned and call them by their names. He brought food and drink that he gave them freely and gladly. He bandaged their wounded and cared for their sick. With the help of interpreters and friends, he made known to them that they were people worth knowing and loving and not things. In the bowels of the slave trade, Peter subverted the hold of the slavers upon the minds of these abused men and women. He told them of a different kind of Christianity that was about setting free the captive and providing forgiveness and love without charge or coercion. Peter was at an incredible disadvantage: he was trying to make up for the evils of his brothers and sisters in the minds of these slaves but he was willing to try.

Peter became known as the “slave to the slaves.” He taught them about a loving and liberating Lord who led a Church that welcomed them as equal parts of one Body. Constantly, Peter was pushing a boulder up a hill as he fought to love those that his neighbors abused, broke, and dehumanized. He broke bread and shared in communion with the slaves. He followed them to the plantations where they would be held. He met with them and worshiped with them. He poured out his life for those whom others labeled as worth nothing more than what their short lives could produce. Though it meant that Peter was abused and mistreated (and would die alone), he still offered a radical and beautiful love to the people whom he met on every ship that came into the harbor. Over thirty-three years of this ministry–amidst cruel opponents and overwhelming odds–Peter denied what he could have had if he would have minded his own business and, instead, minded the well-being of his brothers and sisters who he met for the first time in the cargo holds of slave ships. In those thirty-three years over 300,000 slaves would find the loving Lord that Peter Claver followed. He may have been pushing a boulder up a hill and fighting against impossible odds but, yet, Peter was doing the work of the Kingdom the entire time. Peter was following his Lord into the clutches of a broken and evil world so that some might be saved and changed. He descended repeatedly into the hell of the slave trade only to bring some out and go back, again, when the next ship arrived.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2eKZyUl

Telling the Stories that Matter: August 25 – Genesius, Actor, Martyr, Convert


Genesius was not raised in a Christian family but he was a member of a class of people who were not highly esteemed or respected–actors and comedians. He sacrificed to the Roman gods and said all the right things but the Roman world seemed to offer him no opportunities to attain its great reward of wealth and a life of leisure and influence. Diocletian had made it clear that it would not be profitable–or even safe–to be a Christian but he had not been very clear on how anybody else could attain the rewards of the Empire. Genesius was an enterprising man and deduced that Diocletian would be making a rare trip to Rome to celebrate the 20th year of his rule and devised a plan. Knowing Diocletian’s hatred of Christians, he endeavored to work with his troupe and develop an improvisational comedy act mocking Christians and their rites. He expected that this would convince the Emperor to smile upon him and earn him the rewards of the Empire and so he cast himself in the role of the main character with the intention of viciously satirizing Christian practice.

Using his skills as an actor, Genesius was able to become involved in Christian circles to perform the research necessary to do the act well. He was taking significant risk to do so–Christians were being persecuted and arrested–but he knew that he could always offer sacrifice quickly if captured and keep his freedom. Genesius convinced the Christian leaders that he was sincere and began to be educated by them about what it was they believed and trusted.While a catechumen of the Church, he learned about the Church’s mysteries and rites–including baptism. The idea of sacramental rebirth by water intrigued Genesius who decided to focus the act upon this rite in particular. After he had received enough information to do the show, he stopped attending the meetings and classes of the people he had duped.

On the day of the show, the troupe was excited because Diocletian was present for the performance. Knowing that he loved comedy, the troupe knew that Diocletian’s amusement meant their success and benefit. They took the stage and the mockery commenced much to Diocletian’s delight. Genesius played a Christian in the catechumenate and his fellow actors played the stereotypes and comedic parts to the hilt. Subtle and not-so-subtle satire of the Christians pleased Diocletian as the actors must have been aware as they performed. Genesius–in character–requested baptism and an actor playing a priest came out from the wings of the stage area. Much laughter accompanied the baptism of Genesius but something changed as the water left the priest’s bowl and poured over Genesius’ head. Genesius saw a vision and all of his catechumenate came to bear upon his soul. He found himself painfully aware that he was mocking something that had taken seen in his heart and that he found himself truly to believe. He was being converted even as he mocked his newfound Lord and Savior. He had professed his faith in mockery but now it was made real as he found that the seed of faith planted by his time with the Christians had bloomed within him.

Actors playing soldiers came forward and gripped Genesius by the shoulders. They noticed that something had changed about Genesius’ demeanor who had stopped delivering lines and, instead, was staring into space at some unseen vision. They continued on with the play likely thinking that Genesius was planning some particular gag or, perhaps, in accordance with the maxim: “the show must go on.” They dragged him before the feet of Diocletian in the audience and presented him to the Emperor. Thinking it hilarious and excited to have a part in the show, Diocletian demanded the same of Genesius as he had demanded of so many Christians–denial of their faith and sacrifice to the Roman gods. Genesius looked up into the face of Diocletian and said, “I can deny neither my faith nor my Lord Jesus Christ.” Nervous laughter stole through the crowd and Diocletian looked to his aides with confusion in his eyes–he didn’t get it. The other actors froze knowing that Genesius had left the script–he was supposed to have agreed to the Emperor’s demands and make a mockery of all that had preceded and been said.

Diocletian did not like that he thought a joke was being played on him and so he had soldiers–real soldiers–come out and bind Genesius before the crowd. It may not be funny but he refused to allow some actor to rob him of his dignity and aura of fear and adoration. He demanded Genesius’ denial under threat of torture as audience and acting troupe looked on. Genesius responded: “There’s nothing you can do or threaten to remove Jesus Christ from my heart and my mouth. Once I mocked his holy name and now I detest and regret that time. I came so late to the Kingdom and cannot leave it now.” On Diocletian’s order, Genesius was beheaded and made a martyr. He had not received the rewards of Rome but he had received the rewards of the Kingdom of God. He had earned the Martyr’s Crown.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2iv9q9c

Telling the Stories that Matter: August 21 – Abraham of Smolensk, Orphan Monk, Falsely Accused, Vindicated


Abraham was born to wealthy parents in the 12th century, so you might say he
was fortunate. However, his parents died when he was very young and he was left to live with others in Smolensk, Russia, who loved him but who could never replace his father and mother in his life. Abraham was raised in the Church and was familiar with its teachings from a young age. Perhaps, his guardians thought that the Church, with all its many brothers and sisters, could be the family that Abraham needed so desperately. In many ways, it was, but it never made up for his deceased parents and their absence in his life. When he was deemed “old enough” to make decisions about his family fortune, he could only think of one thing to do with all that wealth–he gave it to the poor, took up the life of a monk, and moved to the Bogoroditskaya Monastery. He grew into his calling and vocation and was known as a forceful and convicting preacher, as well as being a scholar of the scriptures and the Church’s teachings concerning the scriptures.

But what he was best known for during his service at Bogoroditskaya was his ministry to the poor and sick that always seemed to be growing. Abraham’s genuine affection for those in trouble and need made him stand out from the average monk at Bogoroditskaya at the time and attracted much attention to his compassionate care from both those in need and other clergy. We could offer many reasons why his upbringing and fatherless and motherless childhood led Abraham to care for such as those whom he loved, but one thing is for certain beyond all other things: whatever it was that formed Abraham, formed him to be more loving and more caring–to be more like his savior, Jesus Christ. Many of Abraham’s peers and colleagues at Bogoroditskaya became jealous of, or convicted by, his compassionate care and genuine love for those who were troubled. Consequently, they leveled charges of heresy and pride against him, insisting that what was genuine was actually corrupt. Abraham’s enemies had reasoned that it was better to put out the light he produced, than to have others see clearly what little light shone from their hearts. The wealthy condemned Abraham for preaching against poverty and greed. After all, when your god is your wealth or your security, then even love and grace must bleed upon your altar. So, an investigation was opened into the character and orthodoxy of Abraham. Abraham avoided the conflict by moving and joining the Monks of the Holy Cross.

But, the accusations followed Abraham and soon he was forbidden to preach. Even though two consecutive investigations acquitted him of any wrongdoing, he was stripped of all priestly functions by his bishop and sent back to Bogoroditskaya to be obedient to his superiors and abandon his ministry to the sick and poor. But, soon a drought gripped Smolensk and the people cried for the Church to pray to God to grant rain to the city and its
fields. When the Church assured the people that it would though, the people demanded that Abraham be asked to do so because they knew personally what great love Abraham held for them. Because of the outpouring of support, the bishop reopened Abraham’s investigation, cleared him of all charges, and renewed him to his priestly role and ministry to the sick and the poor. After Abraham prayed with the people for rain, he hadn’t made it back to his cell when the first drops of rain began to fall on Smolensk. Abraham spent the rest of his life teaching and caring for the poor and the sick, because he had learned the power of love in the lives of those who need it so much. Abraham the fatherless and motherless had become father and mother to so many in need of God’s love and grace and that had made all the difference in the world.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2xklAUZ

Telling the Stories that Matter: August 14 – Maximillian Kolbe, Martyr, Prisoner #16670, Lover of Life


Maximillian Kolbe was born Rajmund Kolbe in part of Poland that was, at the time, part of the Russian empire. His father–Julius–and mother–Maria–moved the family around in an attempt to find both freedom and a measure of stability. They worked a variety of jobs before Julius enlisted in a Polish force that hoped to fight and gain the independence of Poland from Russia. Rajmund and one of his brothers decided to become priests and did so by sneaking across the border into Austria-Hungary. There, they studied in seminary in preparation. When Rajmund took the vows that began his process of becoming a priest, he changed his name to Maximillian. This was, in a way, a new birth into life that was free of Rajmund’s fear of the Empire and the oppression it so easily dealt in. It was a turning point for Maximillian.

Eventually, Maximillian would be ordained a priest and he would return to Poland. However, now Poland was a free nation andMaximillian was a spiritual leader who knew how best to resist an Empire. This would come in handy when, years later, the Third Reich began to sweep into Poland bringing death and destruction to Jews, outcasts, and those who resisted the Empire. Maximillian used the radio station he had founded and supervised to vilify the encroaching Nazis. Further, he used the resources and buildings at his disposal to provide shelter and sanctuary to more than 2,000 Jewish refugees. He refused to submit to an Empire that demanded submission or torturous death. This kind of resistance to the Empire was, is, and will always be noticed by the powers. Consequently, the Gestapo came–hiding behind their titles and uniforms that were supposed to make their evil actions legitimate–and arrested Maximillian. He was shipped to prison and, then, to Auschwitz.

They tried to strip him of his identity. They did not call him Maximillian–his chosen Christian name. They did not call him Rajmund–the name his family had given him. They called him prisoner #16670. They hoped that they could quell this resistance by crushing the spirit of one who refused to submit. Whereas they could have used their power and simply killed him, they hoped to crush his will and make an example of him. In the case of Maximillian, they failed.

Eventually, one of the men in Maximillian’s block was found missing. The Nazis were enraged at the idea of a person escaping their exquisitely crafted hell and their rage flowed out in a series of commands: ten random people from that block would forfeit their lives as punishment–by starvation in a locked bunker. They rounded up ten men and paraded these condemned ones before the inhabitants of Auschwitz. They proclaimed the cause of their death–the “missing” man who would later be found dead in a latrine–and hoped to spread fear through the people like a poison to destroy their hope and capacity for cooperation with each other. The Empire dealt in terms of death and was skilled at wielding it willfully.

One of the men–Franciszek Gajowniczek–cried out in fear and desperation for his wife and children that he would leave behind. The hearts of the Nazis were not moved but the heart of Maximillian was. Maximillian stepped forward and volunteered to die in the man’s place. Maximillian–lover of life that he was–hoped to purchase the life and future of another man with his own excruciating death. The Nazis agreed to this for whatever reason and led the ten men into a bunker, locked the door, and gave the men over to death and desperation. Maximillian led the condemned in songs and prayers while they slowly died from starvation and dehydration. After three weeks of torturous death, Maximillilan and three others were still alive and still singing and praying. They were weak and they were, most assuredly, dying and yet they were offering love to their executioners. The guards removed them from the bunker and injected them with carbolic acid. They died there on August 14th, 1941. Though the Nazis dealt in death and believed themselves powerful, Maximillian dealt in love and life and knew the true power of a redeemed heart willing to make sacrifice for another.Maximillian died that day but he resisted and defeated an Empire that couldn’t begin to comprehend the redemption and conversion at work in Maximillian.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2w3n9tT

Telling the Stories that Matter: August 4 – John Vianney, Priest, Confessor, Shepherd


John Vianney was not a well-educated man. He had been born to a family of poor peasants near Lyons, France. He briefly served in the military before deserting. He greatly desired to be a priest because of the heroic quality of the outlawed ministers who would supply spiritual sustenance and succor under threat of arrest, imprisonment, and even death. Yet, he was not a learned or well-read man. His inconsistent education combined with his relative lack of academic intellect suggested that the priesthood was not an appropriate profession for him.Regardless of his suitability for the profession of priest, John was ideally suited for the calling and vocation of priest.

He was, eventually, recommended for ordination–although, it was with great hesitation that the bishop agreed to assign him. He was not learned like other priests but he was sincerely interested in taking care of people and providing spiritual support and formation. In 1815, he was finally ordained. In 1817, his bishop assigned him as the parish priest of a small village–Ars-en-Dombes–where he was expected to live out a life of obscurity and do little damage. Even though the bishop failed to see John’s potential, God was calling John to do great things.

Even though it was clear that his advisers, friends, and supervisors felt that his was an unimportant calling, John understood his parish to be a flock of people thirsty for life-giving water. Though he was unable to do much education on abstract theology or erudite books and theories, he repeatedly poured himself out for his flock. His people talked among themselves and wondered if he ever slept since they were aware that he was constantly visiting members, officiating over the work of the Church, and engaging in his own spiritual formation. Though John’s sermons were simplistic and far from eloquent, they spoke with the power of a man who truly believed that love was stronger than death. John’s every action and movement became a powerful sermon about sacrifice, love, peace, and hospitality.Though the world had labeled him insignificant and his parish unimportant, John devoted himself to the ministry of loving these people with all his heart, mind, soul, and strength.

John would hear confession on some days for up to 18 hours. His skills with confession were laudable and his investment in his people reaped dividends in their own spiritual formation. By being devoted to their lives–day in and day out–John gained a familiarity with them that allowed him to move them in confession and formation. He helped call out their sin and weakness and moved them onward to greater growth and devotion to their common Lord and Savior. This unlearned man knew little of books but much of people and holiness and lead onward calling his flock to follow into the Kingdom of God.

As John continued his ministry at Ars-en Dombes, this unimportant town became a center of people seeking compassion and care. For those who sought healing from the world and their own self-initiated slavery to sin and destruction, John offered a hand to hold while Jesus Christ freed and redeemed them. John never quite understood what all the fuss was about and why so many people wanted to honor him and never would. For John, this was simply what being a priest meant. Though John was not martyred–in fact, he died of natural causes–it’s true to say he repeatedly laid down his life not only for his friends, but also, for his enemies. John lived a life worthy of remembrance and emulation. Miracles and feats accompanied this gentle and soft-spoken shepherd but, for John, the greatest miracle of all was God calling greatness out of the insignificant and unimportant.

from Blogger http://ift.tt/2vwguaJ