Welcome to the website of a retired United Methodist pastor! This corner of the Internet continues nearly fifty years of a weekly column in a church newsletter, on topics ranging from the ridiculous to the sublime. The opinions expressed are the author's and represent no institution, although it is hoped that within these pages you will find a reflection of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, who, in his own borrowed words, insists that we love God with, along with all the rest of what we are, our minds. "Critical" as used in the title does not mean being nasty or grumpy; it means using intellectual faculties in the service of God. Your reactions, rebuttals, comments, and questions can be addressed to: BobHow9846@comcast.net.
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March 27, 2014 - Personal Matters: Scenes from a Holiday
April 15, 2014 - Essays: Good Friday
Long, long ago I wrote to the congregation
I was serving as pastor and stated my mission among them by quoting the Apostle
Paul: "I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him
crucified." It may have been an overstatement of youthful idealism (or
unreality); but I'll stand by
it for then, and also for now.
Don't misread me... please... once you get
beyond these opening lines and next paragraph.
I do love life. I cherish the moments
cuddling with my bichon in the recliner following an exercise session, and she,
the bichon, reciprocates with an affectionate lick on my cheek. It may not seem
possible, but it does get better than this. As when grandchildren come into
their own, can converse with you and even dispute you (gently, of course) and no
longer seem to be bored beyond yawning as soon as a gray hair opens his mouth. I can say the advertising slogan without
a hint of sarcasm, "Life Is Good." Well, mostly, as you will see, if you
continue down the page. Still life is sweet. I made a mango meringue pie
last night; and though it was a little sloppy, it was tasty. Marryin' Bob
is also Bob the Pieman whose sweet tooth populates the fridge with whatever fruity
concoction I fancy. My ears too are frequently pleasured. Tonight we hear
the symphony orchestra and a community chorus sing Mozart's Requiem. Last week
it was Bach's B Minor Mass. Every morning at breakfast the CD player serenades us with
Dvorak, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky. And for a change of pace there is my buddy
from the pool, Jeff, the soprano saxophonist and his mellow melodies. Now
into my ninth decade I look back on where I've been, what I've done, and with
whom I've done it and, very appropriately, I am overwhelmed with the thought of
how lucky (graced?) I am, way, way beyond any deserving.
Let Barbara say Amen and savor a wedge of
mango meringue pie.
Still, the longer I live the surer I
know that this world is not only not the best of all possible ones, but
that deep down in it there is something terribly wrong. I offer a few
nouns as evidence: holocaust, My Lai, Boston Marathon, 9/11, Hiroshima, Jim
Jones, Columbine, Pol Pot, Abu Ghraib, gulag, Sandy Hook, Pearl Harbor, Dresden.
And these markers are just in my lifetime. The page and your patience
aren't long enough to list the human race's evil since the dawn of recorded
history. No institution, certainly not the church, is blameless.
Individually we may make our way through life without offense; but we are swept
along, like everyone else, in the relentless tide of human experience and are
culpable, even if unwitting, in the ravages of the larger world.
I chuckled at the repeated TV ad during
March Madness, though the subject matter was anything but funny. Alyssa
Milano, once a charmer teen in the TV series "Who's the Boss," narrated with
occasional shots of her soulful face, the plight of hungry swollen-bellied,
hollow-eyed children in Third World countries. She pled for contributions.
Just as earlier in the season (and here is the reason for my chuckling) she pled
on behalf of abandoned puppies. Not a good casting sequence, I thought to myself
and Barbara, while watching the Huskies triumph. But the children in Alyssa's
stint stick in my mind and wound my heart, especially as they were contrasted so
sharply with the strong, athletic robust men and women playing roundball on
championship courts. There is food enough for all, every last one of us, in this
modern world, more than enough, enough to make us all obese. Still babies
Human evil, intentional or inadvertent, yet
almost always self-justifying, is the primary reason the cross is raised. It is
raised as diagnosis and cure to the evil around us and, I confess, in us.
What, after all, conspires to nail Jesus to
those crossed beams of wood on Calvary? Take your pick of ordinary human
shortcomings. Indifference, crowd mentality, expediency, cowardice, idealistic
fervor gone sour, ignorance... all the petty and sometimes grotesque attitudes which continue to plague us
two thousand years later... and all of it dressed up in self-righteousness.
The nails in hands and feet are the surrogates of human failures. Worse,
the best of our institutions in that early moment in human history, the Roman
legal system and the Jewish religious tradition, convicted him and sentenced him
to death, the one for treason, the other for blasphemy. And each was
right, even as it was horribly wrong: Jesus would and did establish a new kingdom; he did acknowledge he was
the Son of God.
See the cross of Good Friday: we did that
to him. And our co-conspirator was God. Jesus does not go to his
crucifixion the way most walk the last mile, insisting on their innocence. From
the start of his ministry in Galilee he is shadowed by the cross. Even the
Sermon on the Mount, with its insistence on the steep cost of discipleship,
never says it but certainly hints at it, that a cross is the eventuality of a
loving life. Calvary was ordained by heaven. Which does not absolve
us as the agents of Jesus' death, but gloriously hints that God, the ever
resourceful, can and does, in the words of the Psalmist, make the wrath of men
to praise him. The instrument of humanity's greatest crime, the cross,
becomes the hope of the world's salvation.
No, not as if by some heavenly wand waved
to make it all right. That would make the cross a stroke of magic, which
it absolutely isn't. The grace, the overwhelming, unrelenting mercy of
God, that enters and claims this fallen world does so through you, and others
like you caught up in the healing, compassionate, just, and peaceful
countercurrents Jesus brings into this world. Two thousand years later and the redemptive job still isn't done.
And before you and I shut our eyes for ever we'll not be able to say a final
"Amen" on the new creation. But it has begun, nourished on the blood and
tears of Calvary, and the thousands of blessed imitators since, not always
dramatic but always consequential. No need to provide another list of
nouns. Just look to your own life and those along the way through whom the
kingdom of love and light became a reality for you, parents, pastors, priests,
teachers, neighbors, siblings, sometimes even the high and mighty; those whose
lives, having touched yours, have left on your years a gentle impression of the
One who gives us reason to call this Friday good.
The Bible, from beginning to end, the full
sweep of it, Genesis to Revelation, tells what is finally a hopeful story: how
we are, as we have prayed a thousand times we might be, delivered from evil.