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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August 17, 2014 - Essays: Octogenarian Ignominy
Septemer 1, 2014 - Essays: Faith in Ordinary Time
Septemer 22, 2014 - Essays: Correcting Spiritual Arithmetic
The closing lines of the Sunday solo sang
Correcting Spiritual Arithmetic
The closing lines of the Sunday solo sang: "In you alone is
where I find my comfort. In you alone my only hope. In you alone my heart has
found a resting place." The "you," of course, is God. What a terrific tribute!
What a wonderful sentiment! Such exquisite piety!
And I find it excessive... like the tribute we pay to the
deceased we never knew that, well, that "he was a great guy, got along with
everybody, etc." In English literature class we named it hyperbole, a
rhetorical device by which one accents the positive beyond resemblance to
Yes, I know this soulful sentiment comes with Scriptural
authority. Try Psalm 62, for one. There are moments elsewhere when
patriarchs equally lament and boast that God alone is their refuge. As I
was reminded, however, one afternoon sixty years ago by a seminary
professor when I felt intensely an abandonment (albeit professional, not
personal) that search as I might for vindication I wouldn't find it with Jesus, especially in my desire to leap to my own defense, an
understandably human reflex which he, Jesus, never manifested.
Elijah did... manifest a readily remembered complaint of
self-pity. The prophet is hiding in a cave atop Mt. Horeb, fearing for
his life after massacring four hundred fifty priests of Baal and Asherah, from King Ahab's
kingdom gone astray. The prophet laments his predicament in words echoing down
from antiquity: "I, even I only, am left" (KJV, I Kings 19:10).
The same seminary professor just referred to, when retelling this episode, noted that
the Lord God, speaking to Elijah in the still small voice of calm, corrects his
arithmetic. Others, faithful others, were in waiting, to be called upon to stand
alongside Elijah, to carry on and keep the faith.
Let me correct the arithmetic of the Sunday soloist (the
Psalmist too) and explain the reasons I cannot in good conscience sing his song.
What about, for one, the companion lying in bed beside you,
eating dinner at the other end of the table, the one you help, or should, vacuum
the rug and weed the garden? What about him or her? The one to whom you
complain when the sun's hot or the dog's uncooperative? The other
who shares your life for better and, significantly, dear Psalmist, for worse.
King David can complain about his isolation up there on the throne. But
the rest of us, with none of his regal pretenses, are surrounded, upheld, cajoled,
corrected, and loved in spite of ourselves by others. Unless, of course, we send
everyone away by projecting an insufferable paranoid self-pity. Adam and
Eve, banished from Eden, remember them?, even they, for all their disobedience,
had each other as they were sent east hand in hand.
If God alone is where we find our comfort, and if God alone is
our hope and resting place, then it's because of the extravagant provision God
makes in surrounding us with loving others.
I count, for two, among that number children and
grandchildren. I have been heard to report that they have kept me alive in
retirement. True. Ernest Hemingway observed that men don't die
from old age, they die from boredom. Helping to raise a second family
before and after the Social Security checks began arriving has for me kept
boredom at bay. When some have thought to praise me for welcoming into our
home twins at age one and a half, and keeping them there e'en till now, I have
explained that they have it backwards. They, the grandchildren, have provided
purpose and activity to what might have become a very selfish and self-centered
existence. Those cold spring evenings shivering while watching Little League
games; the seemingly constant calls to chauffeur hither and yon; the frequent
visits to fast food joints where I probably wouldn't and certainly shouldn't
have noshed on French fries; the occasional visit to the haberdashery for boy's
clothes where I could demonstrate my masculine sense of style; the appointments
with pediatric doctors where I learned the diagnosis and remedy which I
shared in a critical moment with a doctor half way around the world; these kinds
of things give me to know that the old man, though old, still has his uses.
I am not alone because they, the offspring, aren't.
And you, for three, to complete a personal trinity. Think of
it, you, at least some of you, are reading this literary residue of my
existence. Something like that. And a goodly number of you respond... now
and then (Believe me, if you responded more frequently I would be weighed down
with guilt for not Emailing you an acknowledgement... which certainly would be
the case, not acknowledging, considering the unmanageable accumulation of
messages already in my Inbox). In these years when I can no longer do for
myself, my family, and lots of others the chores of house maintenance; when even
changing a light bulb requires a hiring (if a ladder is involved), when cooking
a pie requires repeated periods of rest on a high stool; when the only thing I'm
any good at now is eating: the computer beckons for entertainment and
expression. The latter with you on the other end. You're my own personal social
media. And you help to keep me alive and alert for a suitable phrase with
which to bring a smile to your face. Neither do I forget the correction,
the confirmation, and the compassion you send my way, if not to keep me on the
straight and narrow (age takes care of that) but to keep me upright... you know,
The soul is like a medieval cathedral whose arches soar upward to the throne of God. But outside the building is kept
from collapsing in the storm by buttresses. Stone and mortar are held fast
by other stones and mortar. I am held together by other flesh and bone.
Same goes for the soloist, the Psalmist, and King David.