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What Falls in My Yard

The beautiful sugar maple standing tall in the dooryard of your house is yours.  Its sap, its shade, its bark and branches, its trunk and treetop view; they’re all yours.  What’s also all yours is every lovely little leaf turned golden yellow and candy apple red that the wind shakes loose every autumn.  What becomes of all those leaves anyway?  Surely they don’t all fall in your yard.

I spent a good bit of time this weekend raking up in front and behind the house.  As I was making piles and wrangling tarps, the thought entered my mind: “I wonder how many of the leaves I’m laboring over fell from neighbor’s trees and I wonder how many of my leaves are making work for my neighbors?”  I thought about it some and concluded that there’s no telling exactly.  But I’m sure the number isn’t none.  Everyone in our neighborhood shares a little of their fallen foliage with everyone else.  It would be nearly impossible and more than a little silly for me to traipse up and down the street endeavoring to collect all my wayward leaves.  And I certainly wouldn’t expect the Joneses to come over and claim their runaways from out of my shrubs and fence lines.  The burden of autumn is just a collective one I suppose.  This is kind of how it is in a church family.  No matter the season, we all have troubles and trials that we are dealing with.  Most of these are burdens that we alone must bear.  But like the wind, the Spirit will often direct some of my troubles to your dooryard to share with me and some or yours to mine.  The burden of the world, for the church, is a collective one I suppose.  And I love the Lord for it.  “Joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod, for I’m part of the family, the family of God!”

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What the Bell Tolls in Texas

There’s a twelfth century tale that goes something like this. A particularly pious and devout Buddhist monk was alone in his humble home one dark and snowy evening when he was visited by a thief. The monk, sitting upon the floor, was so lost in a transcendental trance that he didn’t notice when the robber barged in. Seeing his advantage, the thief took hold of the golden buddha that sat in front of the worshipful monk and placed it in his sack. The holy man still did not stir and, it being such a cold night, the robber moved to take one of the two warm robes that the monk was wearing. As he lifted the top garment from the old cleric’s shoulders, the monk suddenly awoke and sped after the thief who ran out into the night. After a short chase, the monk caught the man.  Instead of demanding a return of his things, the monk promptly took off his other robe and offered it to the thief. “The Tibetan winter is long and cold and a man in your line of work will need plenty of warm clothing.” The robber replied in disbelief, “Have you gone mad, old monk?  You are more crazy than holy!” The monk responded with a question. “Suppose I was out in the cold and on my right hand there were two mittens and on my left there was none. My right hand was warm but my left was aching from the frosty cold. What should I do?” Without hesitation, the thief answered “Remove one from the right and place it on the left, of course.” As the monk draped the robe over the robber, he said “You see, that is what I am doing this night. I am you and you are me. We are all part of the same body.”

Now it might not be as Zen as all that, but on a hillside in Galilee, Jesus taught his disciples a similar way to live: “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This wonderful rule is often lauded for its power in preventing people from doing awful things to one another. One would steal from another but does not want anything stolen from him. One would curse another but does not want to be cursed himself. One would cheat on another but does not want to be cheated on. Now, this is all very well and good and can certainly be effective, but I imagine Jesus wanted this admonition to be something more than a choke collar. Perhaps we should be more affirmative in our understanding of the Golden Rule; more shall and less shall not. Perhaps we ought to listen because we want to be listened to. Perhaps we ought to reach out because we like being sought out ourselves. Maybe we ought to love because we want to be loved.

Of all the evil that emanates from a mass shooting, one of the most dastardly deeds is done to our society. These sorts of things have an isolating, atomizing effect on our communities. A jaded eye has us see everyone and everything the way that Satan would. While these days certainly call for diligence and a zeal to protect those dearest to us, we must not grow even more indifferent to the neighbors and strangers among us. We must offer more of ourselves to everyone we meet. As the great poet Donne had it: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” It seems the bell in Texas has tolled for us.

 

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There Are No Evolutionists On Halloween

Spooky is the type of spirituality that Americans are comfortable with.  Faith in demons, ghosts, omens, and imps isn’t much of a leap for most.  Spine-tingling premonition is esteemed with solemn reverence.

But with the mere mention of morality, something magical happens.  Talk of righteousness, divine revelation, and a Holy Ghost turns everyone into post-modern, rationalist, naturalist, materialist atheists.  If you really want your countrymen’s skin to crawl, encourage piety.  You’ll find it’s holiness that’s most horrifying to them.  Our neighbors would rather hold the hand of the devil than entertain angels.  What are we to make of this?  Well, despite what they may assert to the contrary, Americans actually believe in darkness and light; in an a priori evil and good.  And that’s somewhat heartening, even if they’re far more comfortable living in the shadows than in resplendent sunshine.  Jesus observed this phenomenon and mentioned it in his discourse with Nicodemus, “. . . the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil.”  The occult is an empty, sugary spirituality – lollipops for suckers.  Christianity offers communion with God – the body and blood of Christ for sinners.

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Belling the Cat

Old Aesop recounted for his readers the curious tale of a community of mice who called a council to address a deadly concern.  The barn they inhabited had begun to be patrolled by a marauding, bloodthirsty cat.  Every morning another mouse or two would be unaccounted for, likely victims of the tabby’s sharp, deft claws.  Something had to be done.  As the mice met and discussed the problem, only one possible solution gained everyone’s approval.  If a bell could somehow be hung around the cat’s neck, its ringing would sound the alarm and be their salvation.  But the question was soon asked, “Who among us is going to bell the cat?”

Who would be willing to dare do such a thing?  Sadly, excuses were the only reply and the council was adjourned in despair.  What was necessary required a courage and a love unknown in the hearts of those assembled.  Of course, this apathy and lack of faith proved more deadly than the cat.

Our hearts, homes, and communities have our own marauders on patrol.  Satan has long prowled about looking to strike with lethal lies and deadly deceptions and delusions.  We, too, every morning are sobered by another one of our loved ones waylaid by the enemy.  We’re not without hope of a solution, however.  The Apostle Paul makes a sound proposal to the church in Ephesus, one having to do with prayer, spiritual armor, and good old fashioned courage.  It reads really well.  It preaches really well.  It sounds very, very good.  But who among us is willing to bell the cat?  Are you?

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The Siegeworks of Love

Seventeenth century poet and playwright, John Dryden, offered a word of caution to anyone battling the steadfast; “Beware the fury of a patient man.”

Like a cat in the tall grass waiting on the imprudence of its prey or a dug-in army’s captain waiting on the weariness of the walled-in; the patient man waits because he knows what he wants and is confident that time will prove the promise of his approach. The Apostle Paul, writing of God’s desire for His creation, provides the following assurance that such a communion will one day be won: His love is patient. Though daylight fade and darkness increase; love is patient. When reason falls and madness reigns; love is patient. As kindness hardens and anger burns; love is patient. There is never any panic in heaven.God’s steadfast love will win the accomplishment of His will in the world and we, His people, would do well to serve that love with confidence.