Rector’s Blog

God and Golf

Our parents frequently hosted visiting evangelists in our home.  I vividly remember these extroverted, often flamboyant, personalities.  One was fond of saying he had four great loves: “God, guns, girls, and golf.” The girls were his wife and four daughters.  He collected fine rifles.  Golf was his rest from the rigors of the road.

I played golf during my junior and senior years of high school. I was the sixth man on a six-man team, until I shanked five-iron shot into the nose of my team-mate who had unwisely gotten in front of me in our rush to finish the last hole.   For my sins I was moved up to his fifth man position, while he recovered, and lost more matches than I would have playing sixth.

One day after hitting a disappointing drive, and responding (inwardly) with appropriate verbal dismay, the thought came into my mind:  “Mark, God doesn’t care how well you hit the ball.”  Then: “He does care how you respond to it.”

I remember a strange mix of emotions followed these musings.  How well I performed in an endeavor was secondary to my response.  Pressure to perform diminished on one side, while a higher and intriguing standard emerged on the other.

My control over my performance was always somewhat limited by my skills, certainly, and there were always the unexpected variables.  But my responses were totally in my hands alone.  What’s more I sensed that I could always count on a some degree of grace to enable a godly response, no matter what.

I found consolation knowing that no matter how poorly I performed it was possible to salvage a win–maybe even a better win.  At the time I did not realize that I had stumbled on something like the Stoic maxim” “Misfortune nobly borne is good fortune.”

There was more to this than simply not cursing or blaming or indulging in self-pity.  Often the right response to poor performance is more practice, which will bring better results. But I was learning to see my performance in light of something much more significant–my relationship with God.

This might be near what Paul meant when He wrote about doing everything — even the most mundane– to the glory of God.  One of the greatest freedoms we are offered in Christ is the realization that there are no circumstances in which it is impossible for us to glorify God, or to please Him.  Even when we fail completely, or are most painfully and unfairly failed, we can please Him with our response.

When this sinks in it brings a sense of something close to invincibility.  It adds a layer of nuance to the assurance that “nothing can separate us from the love of God.”  Normally (and perhaps correctly) we interpret “the love of God” as God’s love for us.  But it is just as true of our love for Him.  Nothing but our own choice can prevent us from offering our circumstances, wretched or glorious, to Him in love.

The notion that God is aware of both our performance and our response is actually secondary to the idea that God is aware, period.  Aware of me!  This is beautifully expressed in the Collect for Guidance:

O heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being: We humbly pray thee so to guide and govern us by thy Holy Spirit, that in all the cares and occupations of our life we may not forget thee, but may remember that we are ever walking in thy sight; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

My mother taught me a simpler version of this when I was about three years old and developing my capacity to escape her field of vision:  “God sees Mark,” she said.  She called it a “Bible verse” and had me memorize it.  After an incident with a whole package of purloined chewing gum she came out with the Amplified Version: “God sees Mark, in the closet.”

A Sunday school song taught us that “the Father up above is looking down in love.”  Perhaps you remember it.

The all-seeing Eye can be a frightening thought, but not if there is indeed an all-loving, all-understanding Heart behind it. He sees, He cares, He understands, and He is there to “assist us with His grace.”  Best of all, He can be pleased, and is pleased perhaps more often than we think.

It is a peculiar cruelty that we value — and worry most about — those things over which we have the least control.  The approval of others, for example. Or getting other people to do or think what we think they should. 

Most of us, I imagine, would be profoundly surprised to know how little–by our standards–God actually asks of us, and how small are the things that make Him smile.  Or perhaps I should say, how large. We are the ones who “sweat the small stuff.” And it’s amazing how heavy those small things become.

Jesus said that his yoke was easy and his burden light.  I could never say that about mine.  If our focus of concern moved into alignment with His would our load get lighter?  I think so.  What really matters?  To me?  To Him?  Certainly not my golf game.  But He is deeply interested in my heart.  So interested that He died so I could give it to Him and live in constant communion with Him through thick and thin.

 

 

 

The Birth of the Anglican Church

This 30 minute lecture will give you a good introduction to the birth of the Church of England.  It corrects a lot of popular misconceptions and is well-worth your time, especially if you are committed to following Christ in the Anglican way.  This will help you in dialog with skeptical or uninformed friends.

Financial Capitalism

What happens when the global economy is no longer based on agriculture, industry, information, services, and consumption?  What happens when the most valuable “product” is debt?

We had a peek at this in the financial collapse of 2008.  Banks got caught with mortgage bundles that were no longer worth what they had bought them for.  If those mortgages had been corn or soybean, well, you just take a loss.  Same if they had been corn or soybean futures.  But what if the “commodity” is debt itself?

If you have not seen the movie, Margin Call, I highly recommend it. Here is a link to the trailer.  But take a look at this short video below for a more focused analysis.

“The economy has become a casino and the high-rollers never lose.”

Maybe you really did, Bono

“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” became a sort of anthem for a generation or two of seekers after it’s release in 1987 on U-2’s second album.

There is a sense in which the human “reach” will always “exceed its grasp” (Browning).   Having achieved, we want more, and we wonder what we might have missed down that other “road.”  Frost cynically suggests that either way amounts to about the same thing; but our hearts aren’t so sure.

Often  we discover that the joy is actually in the search, the hunt, not the quarry.  Finding what we seek is usually the end of the fun.  It is hard to imagine a concert jam around the lyrics, “I have found it, I have found it.”

We are focused beings, even the most distracted of us.  And scientists tell us that we tend to find exactly what we are looking for.  And miss what we are not looking for.  Here’s this from Psychology Today:

One recent study asked a group of radiologists to examine a series of chest x-rays, just as they would if looking for lung cancer. Unknown to the radiologists, though, the researchers had inserted into the x-rays a picture of something no professional would ever expect to see: a gorilla. The picture of the gorilla wasn’t tiny; it was about 45 times the size of the average cancerous lung nodule – or about the size of a matchbook in your lung.

How many of the radiologists spotted the gorilla?

Very few. Some 83 percent of the radiologists missed the gorilla – even though eye-tracking showed that most of them had looked right at it.

I take all this first as a reminder that there is a whole lot of stuff I am missing, especially in the people in my life.  We naturally look for evidence to confirm our biases.  If I am convinced a person has a problem, I will certainly find it.  If I think they have great potential, I will find that.

There is far more “out there” (and “in there”) than we can ever take in, though we like to think otherwise.  So, having discovered something, and found a tidy place for it in my life-model, I need to ask myself, is there anything else I need to consider?  What might be right under my nose?

The second challenge for me is to recognize that I may subconsciously prolong my quest in order to delay arrival.  There are some conclusions I would prefer to avoid especially those that would require a change of plans, or friends.  Better to keep collecting more information to make sure.  When the quest ends I might have to forfeit my identity as a “seeker” and become — Heaven forbid! — a “settler.”  That is not what I am looking for!

There is something in even the most committed “home-body” that longs for a goal, a purpose, a stretch.  It may not be a grand quest for meaning or discovery.  But deep inside we have an intuition that there is “more.”

The voice of caution says, “Yes, there is more, and it is probably dangerous and worse than what you have. You’ve worked hard for this. Be grateful. Sit tight!”  The voice of adventure says, “Maybe not.  Don’t be afraid.  You might be missing something wonderful.”

All of us find ways to make peace with this tension.  Though we are probably “wired” in one direction more than the other from birth, we will fluctuate a bit through the life cycle. In any community, at any point in time, there will always be those who “hold down the fort” while others go scouting.

My father told me about a man he knew as a boy who made his first trip out of Henderson County to travel to St Louis by rail.  When he returned all he could say was, “Fellas, if the world’s as big this’a way as she is that, then she’s a whopper!”

When Job was wrapped up in his grief and dismay and anger, God did not answer his questions but gave him a peek at the bigger picture.  He showed him that reality is a “whopper.”  There’s more to it than any of us can fathom.  There’s more to each of us than any of us can understand.

In his two epistles St. Peter reminds us that as residents in the Kingdom we will all always be exiles, pilgrims, and sojourners here.  Hebrews 13:14 says: For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.  So we tread lightly, with curiosity and delight, anticipating the day when every knee shall bow, and every tongue confess…. when every tear is wiped away, the coming of a new Heaven and a new Earth. 

In the meantime our job is to be a living preview of things to come.  To show the world what it is looking for and invite them on the quest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Right Kind of Holiness

Today’s reading from Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest underlines one of the points I tried to make in yesterday’s sermon. God’s priority is relationship.  I have invested so much effort in cultivating virtues, and championing the good, the true, and the beautiful.  These are all great things, but if they eclipse Christ Himself, they are dangerous.  I am seeing in a deeper way what I have always “known”, that the Christian life is first and foremost personal, not conceptual or even theological.

Jesus invites us into a friendship. If we are true friends of the bridegroom we are concerned, not for ourselves, not even for our own holiness, but for His glory, for Him to shine, for people to see Him and think of Him.

This reminds me of the beautiful lines from St. Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me,
Christ in every ear that hears me.

The primary job of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ, not to make me Holy.  My holiness is a biproduct of the Spirit’s presence.  My own virtue should be almost a matter of indifference to me, compared to my primary concern–that Jesus would be seen through me.  The Holy Spirit wants to make like Christ so that people can more clearly see Christ, not how Christ-like I am.  It may seem like a subtle distinction, but the difference is profound.  It makes sense when you approach the whole thing personally.

 

March 25

Maintaining the Proper Relationship
By Oswald Chambers

…the friend of the bridegroom… —John 3:29

Goodness and purity should never be traits that draw attention to themselves, but should simply be magnets that draw people to Jesus Christ.

If my holiness is not drawing others to Him, it is not the right kind of holiness; it is only an influence which awakens undue emotions and evil desires in people and diverts them from heading in the right direction. A person who is a beautiful saint can be a hindrance in leading people to the Lord by presenting only what Christ has done for him, instead of presenting Jesus Christ Himself. Others will be left with this thought— “What a fine person that man is!”

That is not being a true “friend of the bridegroom”— I am increasing all the time; He is not.

To maintain this friendship and faithfulness to the Bridegroom, we have to be more careful to have the moral and vital relationship to Him above everything else, including obedience. Sometimes there is nothing to obey and our only task is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, seeing that nothing interferes with it. Only occasionally is it a matter of obedience. At those times when a crisis arises, we have to find out what God’s will is.

Yet most of our life is not spent in trying to be consciously obedient, but in maintaining this relationship— being the “friend of the bridegroom.” Christian work can actually be a means of diverting a person’s focus away from Jesus Christ. Instead of being friends “of the bridegroom,” we may become amateur providences of God to someone else, working against Him while we use His weapons.