In the August 30 edition of The Christian Century, the following poem by Charles Hughes appeared:
The Widowed Professor’s New Purpose
His lectures that he likes best
Usually concern Camus.
Each year, he does La Peste,
Which wasn’t always true.
“A parable to be read
By a word itself absurd:
First rats, then people, dead…
The cause is never cured…
“Despair comes in, even seems
To push the envelope
Hard. But the book’s deep themes
Are human love and hope
And how these things endure
Amid death’s ravages –
He’s growing sure
It matters what he says.
Hughes is referencing Camu’s major work, The Plague. The Plague, you may recall is about a town that is ravaged with the bubonic plague. The plague enters the town mysteriously and leaves just as mysteriously. The book shows how human beings rise to the occasion with love and compassion. When things are really bad it seems that human beings are capable of expressing the kind of love and compassion that really needs to be practiced each and every day. Amazing is it not, that in Houston no one wanted to know if one was a certain color, ethnic origin, religious persuasion, gay or straight, rich or poor, right or wrong, left or right. No, none of that at all.
Interesting to me, the Nazarene who died on an ugly hill upon a cross never asked such questions either. I find myself, once again wondering, why does it, all too often, take tragedy to bring out the best that is in humanity?
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 @ 9:10 AM EDT
One of my favorite people ever is the late Jane Merchant. She spent most of her life in bed suffering from illness. Yet she wrote some of the most beautiful and meaningful poetry followed by a prayer in her devotional book, In Green Pastures, ever written. The following prayer from that great work is most appropriate for August 2017. This month has reminded us in so many ways that there is still much evil and darkness with which we must defeat through God’s presence and love. Her prayer following the poem FOR ALL THE GLORY reminds us that there is light born even out of darkness.
WE THANK THEE, HEAVENLY FATHER, for light that rises in the darkness, and for the darkness that makes us realize how lovely is the light. Thou knowest our hearts, O God: thou knowest we would not choose the darkness or the storm; we would not choose the valley of the shadow; we would avoid all sorrow if we could. We thank thee, Lord, that out of the experiences from which we shrink, we learn the glory of light, the comfort of thy presence, and the sufficiency of thy consolations. We thank thee in Christ’s name. AMEN
Heather Heyer, who was murdered by a white supremacist and neo nazi in Charlottesville, Virginia like so many innumerable others murdered by KKK and other people filled with hate, will forever be such a light shining above and beyond the wretched darkness embodied in those hate groups. Indeed, the light of the crucifixion and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ still shines above and beyond such absolute evil and idiocy.
Thank God for the light of Christ.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Wednesday, August 30, 2017 @ 10:39 AM EDT
John 6:47-48 in The Living Bible reads as follows: “How earnestly I tell you this – anyone who believes in me already has eternal life! Yes, I am the Bread of Life!” And, the essence of another teaching of Jesus is humanity does not live only on bread. So, the people of Jesus’ day must have been struggling with something with which we struggle today. I believe that struggle is over just what it is we human beings need to be really and fully alive to ourselves and to the world in which we are privileged to live out our days.
Just as in Jesus’ day there were those who believed that if people have certain so-called necessities of life like a good job, economic well-being, security, etc. then all would be well. Jesus reminded the people then and it is a good reminder for the people of today that taking care of our physical needs only does not a really meaningful, purposeful and joyful life make. I remember once a statement by the late Johnny Carson during a Tonight Show monologue in which he said in a rather sober manner, “Money does not make you happy.” I remember the brokenness that was in his life at the time and I remember that he did not die a happy man. He had fame and fortune. Yet, his soul longed for something more.
Now, I believe in economic prosperity, I believe that we need good jobs, security and all the rest of those “things” as we journey upon the face of this earth. In other words, I am certainly not a proponent of “pie in the sky.” But, I believe with Jesus that we need and must have something much more than those things upon which so much of our political rhetoric is based in this day. What I take from Jesus’ words is a clear warning to the times in which we find ourselves. The warning is simply this, if we believe that economic prosperity is all it takes for our society and our world to bring forth the best that is in us, we are very sadly mistaken.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Wednesday, August 23, 2017 @ 9:20 AM EDT
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us in absolutely no uncertain terms that we are still a broken people; we are still in need of redemption and reformation. The Bible uses the word sin to describe the brokenness and the fragile state of human affairs.
My Dear Precious Congregation,
Jesus once taught that when a house is at its cleanest it serves as the most fertile ground for dust to return. It goes without saying that our living and working spaces must be constantly cleaned. Of course, Jesus was talking about the well-being of our souls. Of course, the point of that teaching was the well-being of our character and our souls. He was helping those in his day understand that just when we think all is well evil is quick to remind us that all is not well. Such is the case in our community, nation and world today. I am reminded that during the period of the Renaissance the notion existed that humanity would just rise to one greater level of knowledge, understanding and enlightenment after the other. We remember that the Middle Ages/Medieval Period “lasted from the 5th to the 15th century. It began with the fall of the Western Roman Empire and merged into the Renaissance and the Age of Discovery.” Sometimes, I wonder with all our technology and our desire for instant this and instant that are we really any better where it really counts? Like in how we treat each other regardless of our differences? Enlightenment?
In other words, after a terrible period in history, better times came and humanity, in effect, believed it had arrived. That cycle continues to repeat itself and I believe will continue to repeat itself with the same fallacious conclusion that one day humanity will be without blemish. Indeed, in the Old Testament there is what is known as the Prophetic Cycle. It goes like this: humanity and God are in right relationship and all is well, humanity, at some point, falls short of the expectations of God, humanity is punished, humanity repents then God restores humanity to better times. As I said, it is a cycle. Or to put it another way, history continues to repeat itself. World War I was called “the war to end all wars” and today we are talking about the use of nuclear weapons following WW II, Korean War, Vietnam, Gulf War, all our efforts in fighting terrorism, not to mention our longest war in Afghanistan. In light of humanity's inability to settle its differences in more humane ways, I believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt we need to live with a more sober, more realistic understanding of human nature.
The events in Charlottesville, Virginia remind us in absolutely no uncertain terms that we are still a broken people; we are still in need of redemption and reformation. The Bible uses the word sin to describe the brokenness and the fragile state of human affairs. Do we think too highly of ourselves as human beings? I believe we do if we live with the notion that we have arrived and all is well with us in our own community, nation and world. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if there is an ounce of a superiority complex in our minds, hearts or souls. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we do not take evil seriously. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think we can help the human situation improve without our own practice of a lifestyle of humility before God and each other. Do we think too highly of ourselves? I believe we do if we think that economic prosperity is the highest mark of a healthy society. Do we think too highly of ourselves? Again, I believe we do if we fail to take evil seriously for in so doing we cannot take good seriously.
What can we do? Where can we make a difference? I am reminded of these lines from an old gospel hymn: “Do not wait for some deed of greatness you may do, do not wait to travel afar, but to the duties ever near you now be true, brighten the corner where you are.” We make a difference in teaching our children that what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia is as evil as evil gets and is terribly wrong in the eyes of God. We make a difference when we let those with whom we work and/or employ that such behavior as we have witnessed is unacceptable in the workplace. We make a difference when we share with our students that people like those who marched on the campus of The University of Virginia are sadly mistaken in their understanding of what it means to be the best human being we can possibly be. We make a difference when we discuss these issues with our families (that is to be sure that we engage in times of clarifying values for those whom we love so very dearly). We make a difference when we, refuse to lend any kind of credibility to such evil as raised its ugly head in the form of white supremacy and Nazism and in Charlottesville, Virginia. As followers of Jesus, we should know that we have been called to stand up and speak out against such evil, call it what it is, where we live, where we work and where we play. And, I will add, where we worship.
Jesus, I remind people from time to time, died on a cross. His death and the way he died are reminders, for as long as humanity is privileged to walk upon the face of God’s good earth, that we have not arrived. In the past, when our world was in crisis, people were quick to turn to religious institutions, turn to God. Today, not so much. I would ask you, are we better off by not insuring that humanity hears loudly and clearly the biblical message as shared in such a story as The Tower of Babel in the Old Testament? The story that teaches us that humanity left to its own devices without a spirit of humility is a humanity destined to live in chaos. Are we better off without telling the story of Jesus? The story that reminds us that good can triumph over evil. The story that teaches us a much better way to be human. Are we better off without prayer, without worship, without being who Christ has called us to be and doing what Christ has called us to do? Indeed, may we find ways, as followers of Jesus, to work with persons of other faith persuasions to help such evil find no place in our community, nation and world.
Hope to see you in church where we will enter to worship, pause to pray and depart to serve. In doing so, may we remember that we believe good will triumph over evil because of what God did in Christ.
Published on Monday, August 14, 2017 @ 3:17 PM EDT
One of the toughest teachings of Jesus is the one about turning the other cheek. Remember, Jesus once said, “But I say to you, do not resist him who is evil; but whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Matthew 5:39 (New American Standard).
We know that Jesus was very skilled in using oriental hyperbole (the use of exaggeration to make a point) as a teaching tool. This may or may not be one of those times in which he employed that tactic. However, it begs the question as to just what Jesus was attempting to teach his followers. I heard a very prominent preacher years ago from Memphis, Tennessee say that Jesus was telling his followers not to allow the actions of other people to control their reactions. I have always liked that interpretation. The Matthew Henry Commentary on Matthew 5:38-42 states that “The plain instruction is, suffer any injury that can be borne, for the sake of peace, committing your concerns to the Lord’s keeping. And the sum of it all is that Christians must avoid disputing and striving. If any say, Flesh and Blood cannot pass by such an affront, let them remember that flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and those who act upon right principles will have most peace and comfort.”
Another thought on Jesus’ words about turning the cheek comes from Echart Tolle in The Power of Now: A Guide To Spiritual Enrichment. He writes, “Maybe you are being taken advantage of, maybe the activity you are engaged in is dishonest, irritating, or unconscious, but all is irrelevant. Whether your thoughts and emotions about this situation are justified or not makes no difference. The fact is that you are resisting what is. You are making the present moment into an enemy.”
Part of what I take from Jesus’ words and the other words on this page is that we must always be careful to keep our egos out of the way in order that the power of God may work through us. Though a hard teaching, I believe it is one with which we and our world need to wrestle.
– Doug Fairbanks
Published on Friday, August 11, 2017 @ 2:48 PM EDT