Of course men should cry

I‘ve been reading the book of Genesis as 2019 unfolds.  Rich Nathan, senior pastor of Columbus Vineyard, in Columbus, OH, recently noticed something quite interesting about Joseph from the book of Genesis:

Well of course men cry, or at least they should.  I grew up in out near the Colorado border with “tough” boys who didn’t cry.  Well, we weren’t supposed to cry because that might show others you’re weak.  If their sons cried, a dad was known occasionally to say, “You dry up those tears or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

My dad was a good man, empathetic and soft-hearted, but I never saw him cry until he and my mom were here in Urbana, IL, one fall day in about 1995 when my kids, Ian and Maddie, were out on the soccer field. Ian would have been about 9 and Maddie about 6.

Dad would have been 66 or 67 years old. He was newly retired and he and mom had come to visit for a few days.  On the last day of their visit, they attended one of Ian’s park district soccer games and then left for home right after the game, leaving from the soccer field.

I coached the park district team and following the match the boys were gathered in a circle eating granola bars and drinking from the straws they had inserted into their juice boxes.  My dad and mom were standing around the circle along with several of the parents.   Dad walked up to me, slapped me on the shoulder and told me they were about to leave.  He then pushed his way into the circle of boys, hugged Ian and tried to say, “Grammie and I are talking off, Ian. You be a good boy old buddy.”

But he couldn’t get the words out, as he stood there with his arm around Ian’s shoulder.  When he started to say, “You be a good boy old buddy,” he got all choked up and tears filled his eyes.

I could tell he was embarrassed. He then just gave Ian a quick kiss on the cheek, hugged daughter Maddie who was standing next to Ian and then both dad and mom headed to their car. When they were near their car, I yelled toward them, saying, “Thanks for coming, Dad and Mom. Have a good trip.”

Dad was wearing a Kansas State University Wildcat hat.  He turned back toward me, smiled and waved, not saying a word.

Rich Nathan is absolutely right. Godly men cry. Sometimes having a good cry is the healthiest, most normal thing a man can do.

 

The writer of a wonderful book on grief looks back 36 years

Ten years ago an old friend of mine gave me Lament for a Son by Nicholas Wolterstorff. It is a tremendous book to help people understand grieving, and it helped me immeasurably.

Wolterstorff, now 86, has written a very thoughtful essay in the Jan. 10, 2019 “Christian Century” Magazine called Grief speaks the truth.

Looking back nearly 36 years after his own son’s death in a mountain-climbing accident in Germany, Wolterstorff writes:

I did not shy away from taking note of the gaping void in me that his death caused. I did not shy away from voicing my lament over his death. But I could not bring myself to try to figure out what God was up to in Eric’s death.  I joined the psalmist in lamenting without explaining. Things have gone awry in God’s world. I do not understand why, nor do I understand why God puts up with it for so long. Rather than Eric’s death evoking in me an interest in theodicy (understanding why a good, all-knowing God permits evil), it had the effect of making God more mysterious. I live with the mystery. … The God who became more mysterious to me has also become more awesome, awesome beyond comprehension.”

My sentiments, too. Lament is part of life,and while we live by faith, life is full of a whole lot of mystery.

Prayers for 2019 brimming with life

As January 1 approached, I was talking with a man at a local coffee shop about setting goals for the new year. I told him I don’t normally make New Year’s Resolutions. When our faith came up, he told me he is a Catholic and asked, “What prayers will you pray in 2019?”

I don’t think I have been asked that before, but I answered, “Well, probably the same prayers I prayed last year.  I pretty-much pray the same prayers every day, every week, every month.”

“Oh, you’re Catholic.”

“Nope. Protestant.”

“Really? Tell me about your prayers.”

I told him every day at about 5am I sit at my desk and start with this prayer, “Heavenly Father, creator of heaven and earth, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, God of Israel, God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, True and Living God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit, have mercy and hear my prayers.”

Every morning I pray the same confession of sin I learned as a boy, “Most merciful God, I confess that I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed, by what I have done, and by what I have left undone. I have not loved you with my whole heart; I have not loved my neighbor as myself. (I add: “I have not genuinely loved myself.”) I am truly sorry and I humbly repent. For the sake of your son Jesus Christ, have mercy on me and forgive me, that I may delight in your will, and walk in your ways, to the glory of your Name. Amen.”

I then read selections of the Old and New Testament along with a Psalm and a Proverb, before praying the Apostles’ Creed (“I believe in God the Father Almighty creator of heaven and earth and in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord ….”). Following the creed, I pray the Jesus’ prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”  Praying Psalm 23 comes next, followed by these words from Psalm 91, “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, ‘You are my fortress and my refuge, my God in whom I trust.’”

Every day I pray the Lord’s prayer and before my first appointment of the day I pray the Serenity Prayer, “Grant me the peace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, accepting hardship as the pathway to peace, taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it. Trusting that He will make all things new if I surrender to his will, that I may be reasonably happy in this world and eternally happy with him in the next world.”

Every morning I rest my hands on my thighs, turn my palms upward and pray “Lord, have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord, have mercy.”  I confess the mystery of the faith, “Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.”

At least once a week I pray the Prayer of St. Francis that starts, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace,” and ends, “For it is giving that we receive. It is in forgiving that we are forgiven, and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”

For 20 years the prayer of Moses in Psalm 90 has been part of my weekly repertoire of prayers. I center on the words: “Lord, you turn people back to dust, saying, ‘Return to dust, you mortals.’ A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by or like a watch in the night. Yet you sweep people away in the sleep of death – they are like the new grass of the morning. In the morning it springs up new, but by evening it is dry and withered. … Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

Every week for the last 10 years, I have prayed this prayer given to me by a long-time missionary friend: “O Lord, deliver me from the fear of the unknown future, from fear of failure, from fear of poverty, from fear of bereavement, from fear of loneliness, from fear of sickness and pain, from fear of age, and from fear of death. Help me, O Father, by your grace, to love and fear you only. Fill my heart with cheerful courage and loving trust in you, through our Lord and Master Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Finally, before turning to the news of the morning, I make the sign of the cross and pray, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now and will be forever, world without end.”

Happily, I told the fellow I was talking with that those words and prayers usually feel like a liturgy brimming with life, full of God’s blessing.

The #MeToo, #ChurchToo movements have done their work in 2018, and it’s not over yet!

When pastor Bill Hybels resigned from Willow Creek Community Church in early April after several women (nearly 10) brought allegations against Hybels of sexual harassment, I was shocked, angry, sad and confused.  I have so admired Bill Hybels over the years, reading his books, listening to his leadership challenges and often agreeing that his insights are very perceptive and just what I needed at the time. Often I have felt to compelled to act on his challenges.  But as it became clear that much of what the accusers have said was indeed true, I felt that my organization, Pastor-to-Pastor Initiatives, should address the #MeToo movement.

So on Monday, November 5, we teamed up with Urbana Theological Seminary and hosted a day-long seminar featuring the Rev. Ruth Everhart, a Presbyterian pastor and writer from the Washington D.C. area. Everhart experienced her own sexual violence when she was a student at Calvin College in the late 1970s. Her experience is recounted in her gripping book Ruined. She tells her story and how God ultimately redeemed it and is still redeeming it.

I felt she would bring what we needed, and indeed Ruth spent the day openly and honestly addressing 65 area pastors and leaders on the topic “Jesus, the Church and #MeToo.” There hadn’t been a seminar like this one in area churches ever before, as far as I know.  It was a sobering day but I am so glad we did it.

Then on December 13 at the Billy Graham Center on the Wheaton College campus hosted a one-day summit addressing all manner of sexual violence, especially in the Church. And wow, what a day. The summit was streamed live and several pastors and I spent the day watching and interacting as about dozen speakers, mostly women, weighed in on the topic, many of whom had been sexually violated as young girls. Among the speakers were Beth Moore, who was sexually assaulted as a young girl and Max Lucado, who revealed publicly for the very first time that he was sexually assaulted by a community leader in his town when Lucado was a boy.  It was another very sobering day.

If you don’t think the #MeToo kind of sexual harassment, assault and violence is not pervasive, you’d be wrong.  If you think a lot of the of the harassment, assault and violence against women has not happened in some of the very churches we attend, you’d be wrong again.

Just yesterday (12/21) I read a powerful post from a site called Beggar’s Daughter, where writer Jessica Harris describes how a woman can and should feel about being molested by a leader she trusted and what women can do.  I’d highly recommend reading Harris’ essay and others on her site.  Harris is a terrific writer and incredibly transparent, thoughtful, wise and courageous.

Friends, what we in the church have seen revealed this year is that for many decades clergy sexual abuse, harassment and violence has been hidden and never dealt with adequately and honestly. Lots of sin has been swept under the carpet and ministers, and priests, send on down the road with people left in the dark about what happened.

But things are changing.  Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are being called out.  It’s painful to read. It’s horrible to think about. But light is being shined in heretofore dark places and that’s good, though very painful and hard to think about confronting. But Jesus speaks up for the voiceless, the abused, the overlooked and this is yet another time Jesus wants his followers to stand up, speak up and, well, perhaps let the chips fall where they may. The Church of Jesus Christ will triumph, and I don’t Jesus is very concerned about pastors, leaders and priests being called into the light for horrible indiscretions against boys and girls, innocent women or whomever was harassed or assaulted for that matter. Let the Church be a beacon of light!

My friends, with Christmas we are celebrating the light of Christ coming into the world.  We are seeing the Church moving forward, pushing back the kingdom of darkness.

But using both the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements, God is once again calling many in the Church to repent — Acts 3:19 and Hebrews 3:13. It is indeed sobering that in 2018 many of the “mighty” have fallen. I doubt the ripple effect is over yet.

Pray for God’s Church, friends.  Pray for courage for those who finally feel compelled to speak up (people like the well-known Max Lucado), some who have kept their secrets hidden for decades.  When Christ came into the world, the light of Christ descended into darkness. It’s still happening.  May God give us courage to address head on the sexual harassment, assault and even violence in the Church.

And may God be merciful to us, sinners all!

 

 

We can only imagine, but we should still try to …

Down through the centuries, artists, writers, painters and theologians repeatedly have tried to show, to paint, to explain … what it was like when the Virgin Mary was suddenly face-to-face with the angel Gabriel who was carrying a message to deliver that young Mary could only imagine:

“You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus.”

To me, this painting of the Annunciation by Nigerian artist, Paul Woelfel, is quite captivating. My friend Carolyn Butler, living in Cape Town, South Africa, features Woelfel’s painting in a collection of Advent devotions. (Under African Skies — Reflection for Advent and Christmas).

Take a close look at Woelfel’s rendition on the Annunciation. As Carolyn says, “Even though Mary points to herself with something of a “Who, me?” gesture, the other hand is already raised in acceptance as she prepares to take the message proffered to her on a forked stick by the kneeling angel, who has removed his own sandals in her presence.”

Wouldn’t this be a good sermon title for an Advent sermon? “Who, me?” 

What a sobering week for our country

With the pipe bombs being sent last week in the mail, followed by the unspeakably horrific shootings in the Pittsburgh synagogue shootings last Saturday, I reread two powerful columns by editors of the Atlantic Constitution written back in the day.

** On October 14, 1958, the largest synagogue in Atlanta was bombed. The response by Ralph McGill, editor of the Atlantic Constitution, won him a Pulitzer Price. McGill’s word from 1958 ring eerily true for today.  Today, journalist Roy Peter Clark of the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg, Florida, reflected on McGill’s 1958 column.

Among McGill’s piercing words are these: “Let it be understood that when leadership in high places in any degree fails to support constituted authority, it opens the gates to all those who wish to take law in their hands.”

** Another famous and equally poignant editorial, also in the Atlanta Constitution, appeared in the early fall of 1963 and was written by Atlanta Constitution editor Eugene Patterson. It is titled: “A flower for the graves.”

The column by Patterson appeared following the September 16, 1963, bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, in which 4 young African-American girls attending Sunday School (3 of them 14; 1 of them 11) were killed.

Patterson’s column so touched people who read it, the famous CBS evening news anchor Walter Cronkite asked Patterson to read his column aloud on the evening news.

With our mid-term election just days away, Patterson’s column from 55 years ago definitely is worth reading.

 

 

With #MeToo not losing any steam, women increasingly are speaking up, now saying: #WhyIdidntreport

 

The #MeToo movement has given women the impetus to speak up about all manner of sexual violence, sexual abuse and sexual harassment. What so many have gone through, and continue to go through, is just awful. But they are speaking up. Good for them speaking up. I believe them. What they are saying takes courage (Guts!). How could I not be proud of them.

In fact, trending in Twitter just today (9/23) is hashtag #WhyIDidntReport. Because of Christine Blasey Ford speaking up about being assaulted by Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, there are hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of women now weighing in with their stories of sexual abuse, many for the first time. The vast majority of these are not simple, innocent sexual harassment allegations. Most are accounts of serious sexual assault and violence. They are accounts of being raped, sometimes repeatedly over several years. This is just awful beyond awful. It is sexual violence of the worst kind.

And just think for a minute about all the women who were abused within the confines of the Church, in whatever fashion.  And no, it is not just the young women, but also so many young men, especially within the Catholic Church. Just stop and think of the multitudes who were abused and have kept silent for decades.

If you say, “That just makes me sick.”  Well, that ought to make you sick. That would be a proper reaction. You are getting it.

I never have seen anything like this. The floodgate has flung open. Finally, they feel compelled to tell their story. Are they believable?  Of course.

Search #WhyIDidntReport on Twitter and read the accounts for yourself. Get ready for some very sobering, revealing admissions made, in some cases, for perhaps the very first time. Now that takes courage.

With Christine Blasey Ford accusing Judge Brett Ford of sexual abuse way back when they were both teenagers, we are seeing hundreds of women now speaking up, telling their story, telling the truth, saying, in effect, “Now it’s my turn to talk.” Most of their stories are credible and compelling. I am glad they are being told. They are sad. They will make you mad. They will trouble your spirit. They will make you sigh and shake your head.

And they should. The women are doing the right thing by courageously speaking up.

The #MeToo movement, barely a year old, has unleashed in the women of the this country the courage to speak up, at long last. They will have their say! Frankly, this #MeToo movement has no signs of abating. Just today Christine Blasey Ford has agree to testify on Thursday (9/27) before the Senate Judiciary Committee about her allegation of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh.

This is going to be quite the week in the news. I can only imagine, as I write this on Sunday evening. You think there might be a lot of huge decisions weighing in the balance? Don’t you just know it.  It’s incredible, isn’t it? While Dr. Ford speaks up with her accusations against Judge Kavanaugh, he is vehemently denying her accusations. So, stay alert and hold your breath. Again, I can only imagine will happen by week’s end.

The patriarchy (largely White men) that has run this county and most of the churches, well, forever it seems — Protestant and Catholic — is being challenged by thousands of women and men in a ways that we have not heretofore seen. I certainly never have seen anything like this in my life.

Both the Catholic and Protestant Churches are reeling. In July we saw Cardinal Theodore McCarrick resign. A Cardinal almost  never resigns in the Catholic Church. So many of the faithful, once happy with Pope Francis, are not pleased with how he is handling some much of the abuse in the Church.

Following Cardinal McCarrick’s resignation, the awful news broke in August of countless priests sexually abusing more than 1,000 children covering 70 years in the 8 Catholic dioceses in  Pennsylvania, making Catholic and Protestants alike just sick to their stomachs.

The Protestant Evangelical church has not escaped. Earlier this year Bill Hybels, founder and long-time leader at Willow Creek Community Church in Chicago, resigned because of allegations of inappropriate sexual behavior by several former Willow Creek woman, some of them former staff members who accuse Hybels of sexual abuse and harassment, some of it going back 25 or more years. While Hybels denies it, I believe the women, as do increasing numbers of people.

(No, never would I have imagined Hybels “reign” coming to such an unceremonious end. I think you do understand that these thoughts are coming to you from a guy who has read almost all of Bill Hybels’ books, attended many of his conferences and been inspired by many of his motivational talks and outstanding sermons.  I believed in Hybels. I pulled for him. I prayed for him. I was glad for him to carry the evangelical torch, as were thousands of other evangelical leaders across the world. And when the accusations against Hybels just kept surfacing, I was really upset. I was very disappointed in Hybels and in the Willow Creek elders.)

In fact, there was so much misinformation, confusion and trust emanating over this whole debacle, Hybels’ co-heir apparentsHeather Larson and Steve Carter — along with all the elders at Willow Creek, resigned.  How incredible, how crazy, is that? This is one of the largest mega-churches in the United States.

A few thoughts about what to consider doing?

  • Pray for the Church. Christ is the Head of the Church, and the Church will Triumph.
  • Pray that God will protect the women and men coming forward with their stories.
  • Remember that Jesus said his Kingdom is not of this world.
  • And remember that our unshakable trust is in Christ’s final return, not in any world system. Remembering that frees us from the anxiety of having the wrong person in the White House, the wrong person in the congress or senate, or even the wrong person in the Supreme Court. Don’t forget to sing the Psalmist’s warning: “Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.” (Psalm 146:3)

 

I’m afraid it has come to this

 

In addressing how conservative Christians are responding to the Kavanaugh allegations in the September 18 issue of Slate, Liberty University English professor Karen Swallow Prior said:

“I don’t expect we will ever know the truth about what did or did not happen. But as an evangelical Christian, I am convinced Dante himself could not have devised a more fitting circle of hell for my faith community than the one in which we find ourselves: being destroyed from the inside out by the sexual sin we spent decades pointing out everywhere but in our own house. For us, this is the real trial.”

Who of us very recently hasn’t thought about the likes of these poignant words?

If we should perish, the ruthlessness of the foe would be only the secondary cause of the disaster. The primary cause would be that the strength of a great nation was directed by eyes too blind to see all the hazards of the struggle; and the blindness would be induced not by some accident of nature or history but by hatred and vainglory.  

Reinhold NiebuhrThe Irony of American History, 1952

(Niebuhr was a long-time professor at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the author The Serenity Prayer.)

Irony