Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Mental Health Break— “Sea Song” and Lisa Hannigan

This week the theme of the sea put to music especially touched me as our family grieves the loss of my granddad.  My granddad was a lifelong sailor and lover of the sea, and we will scatter some of his ashes on the sea where he used to command our family’s annual regatta from Shelter Island, New York.  Granddad John’s passing belongs to the ebb and flow of the sea of life that carries all of us.  Here is Lisa Hannigan singing her catchy tune, including a hauntingly beautiful violin solo, “Sea Song”—a reminder that the people we love are “like the sea” and that living is about constantly “letting go” of those we love:

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“Admiral John”: A Granddaughter’s Remembrances

It feels a bit like Groundhog Day: wasn’t it just a couple months ago that I was sharing a granddaughter’s reflections upon the death of a grandparent?  This past Saturday, my granddad John slipped away suddenly to join his late wife Peggy of 68 years who had been his companion until two months ago.

Just a few days earlier, I’m told my granddad was praying with one of the pastors from his church, perhaps seeking solace in his grief, when, in the middle of their prayer, Granddad John blurted out, “Peggy, I’ll be with you soon.”  His words were prophetic: on Saturday, a massive stroke took Granddad Home quickly–mercifully, maybe—and surprisingly.  (Many of us thought Granddad at the age of 90 had at least a few more years in him: he had gone back to work the week following Grandmom Peggy’s funeral, doing what God had called him to do across decades and the thing he loved most—being an advocate for the poor.)

Doing justice by the poor was how Granddad worshiped God

“Retirement” was a foreign concept for Granddad John.  Before defending the disenfranchised, he had become a partner in a respected corporate law firm in Albuquerque—and he was highly successful at what he did.  But (as I recount more extensively in my book) at some time during the peak of Granddad’s corporate law career he experienced what he would call a “conversion.”  One night he spent hours driving across rural New Mexico roads feeling suddenly overwhelmed by God’s love for him in the person of Jesus Christ and feeling called, “convicted” really as he told it, to do “more” with a life so loved and with the profession in which he had been trained.

Then, or sometime after that, began Granddad John’s love affair with the poor.  I was a small kid when for a number of Christmases Granddad would take our family around to doors in blighted communities with a bag of groceries, Christmas carols and the time, if invited, to sit down and chat for a while with our hosts.  In many cases, our hosts would be eager to talk with Granddad—like one in particular whom I happen to recall, a woman in a trailer home who invited us into to her cramped, decrepit quarters.  I don’t remember too much of the conversation—I must have been 8 or 9 at the time—but I do remember how she spoke with Granddad; it was with so much affection and trust; and I remember how my granddad addressed her with so much respect and genuine interest in her life.  The poor loved Granddad John; and he loved them.

My granddad’s midlife conversion experience left him with the zeal of a convert.  For a while there, during summers spent with grandparents, I’d spend more than one uncomfortable moment in the backseat of Granddad’s Buick station wagon watching as he handed out Campus Crusades “Four Spiritual Laws” tracts to any stranger in his path.  That sometimes discomfiting zeal would remain, maybe softening just a bit, so that in church worship services much later in life I’d sometimes look over to see him looking heavenward, with both hands enthusiastically lifted in praise, belting out “Amazing Grace.”

Favorite reminiscences of Granddad growing up

Family, tradition and fun were important to Granddad.  In fact he was the life of every party, it seemed—so much so that when friends met him for the first time at my wedding, they would remember him with exclamations like, “Your granddad is a riot!,” and “What a great granddad you have!”  (This I knew of course—and know even more now.)

Granddad John loved to sail.  As a young adult, I was privileged to spend many a summer with Granddad John in his role as “Admiral” of the annual “Robb Regatta.”  Every summer at Granddad’s childhood vacation home in Shelter Island, Long Island, New York, a herd of Robbs would gather to enact with great fanfare a sailboat race.  Every year we were enlisted to participate with a letter from Admiral Granddad himself, regaling us with the highlights and winners from the previous year’s regatta and summoning us to attend, always signing his name with the closing, “Affectionately, Dad.” A couple years I (not really a sailor myself) considered it an honor to be the dead weight in Granddad John’s Sunfish.  Granddad’s heart sang on the open waters.

Granddad held the affection and respect of so many people.  During my young adult years when I was working in D.C., Granddad would come to town to meet with various people and organizations working on the issue of legal aid to the poor.  On one of his visits, he invited me to attend a dinner put on by the organizations of Christian Legal Society and Christian Legal Aid.  I remember feeling like I was in the company of a celebrity to see and hear how this man’s colleagues and friends looked up to and cherished him.

There are truly so many things by which to remember and cherish Granddad John that I won’t do justice to them, but I’ll try.  I never saw my granddad angry or lose his temper. I never saw him complain of his ailments, so that even at the age of 90, when old age had rendered his once imposing, dignified 6’3″ stature pitiably frail, and when life was full of aches, pains and hospitals, Granddad was always remarkably thanking God for the gifts of life and loved ones; never once did I hear him complain. Granddad was always incredibly generous with everyone.  He always sought to believe the best in people, and loved his children and grandchildren unconditionally.  He was loyal to family and friends.  He was always praising God and loving others by seeking to take an interest in their lives.  Every time we were together, he would be deliberate about taking me aside to inquire about what I was up to and to express his love and affection for me; and he genuinely wanted to know, too.

Like all of us, my granddad had his faults—but maybe because my granddad’s life (for as long as I knew him at least) seemed to overflow with faith, hope and love, those “sins” or omissions or failings, (if they could really be called that), seemed not to matter, or, in the end, to be so tenderly forgivable—like the slightest blemishes that make a great work of art even more real, eccentric, beautiful and one-of-a-kind.  Granddad John left some big shoes to fill; I certainly can’t fill them. But what I am so deeply grateful for is the opportunity to have known John Donald Robb II as “Granddad” and to have been given a bit of his story to tell.

A farewell benediction

This time Granddad John’s boat has set sail on halcyon waters and he, maybe uncharacteristically, has set sail without notice.  The Robb Regatta, if it continues, will be sadder, muted by the palpable absence of our commanding admiral.  But this I know: that Granddad has sailed to far better shores than we can even begin to imagine, where there is much celebration; and there, saints, sinners, the poor, the lame and the “least of these” are giving thanks to God for the homecoming of one who sailed nobly to the finish line in the race that was given him.  I love you, Granddad.  May the wind of the Holy Spirit always fill your sails and ever buoy your boat on the waters of faith, hope and hope.  Affectionately, Kris

Hostility Re: My Post on Guns in Georgia—A Lesson

Fellow saints and sinners, it’s with some sadness and more fascination that I write after seeing the onslaught of fierce and even violently ad hominem attacks in response to my post from two days ago about Georgia’s new gun rights legislation.  From here on out, these sorts of responses won’t be tolerated at this intersection between life and God, but today, as a means of investigating the sharp political and cultural divide that afflicts our country, I’ll let them stand for themselves.  “Highlights” were my being called a “bedwetter,” a “liberal, lying witch,” and, a “cretin.”  I had to look the last term up: the definition of a “cretin” in the words of the Oxford Dictionary is a “stupid person (used as a general term of abuse).”

Now that I’ve been called all these names, I’m going to sign up for an NRA membership and put an AK-47 bumper sticker on my car.  (Sarcasm is still allowed here.)

But one reader who called me a witch had a good point: he reminded me that it’s a federal law that you can’t carry guns on planes, so I may be wrong that Georgia residents will be able to take guns on to planes. I stand corrected.  Gun owners may only be able to take their guns through TSA lines, I guess—that is, so long as a tired, over-worked TSA agent catches the gun in their carry-on bags…

From now on, the name calling stops; today, it serves as a helpful educational exercise for me and all my “liberal” friends advocating sensible gun regulation about the deep cultural divides in this country and the vociferousness and violent rhetoric (in many cases) of a small, angry minority.

[For the record: I am politically independent and become uncomfortable when Christians from either side insist that to be a good Christian one must vote Republican or Democrat.  And, once again, for the record, I am advocating sensible gun regulation as part of a holistic approach to preventing future massacres like Newtown.]

Here are some of the comments which, incidentally, with the exception of one “like” on Facebook from another of the silent majority, were the only comments to this post; (you can catch the others at the bottom of this post):

James in North Carolina writes: “Typical liberal hogwash. Trying to point to an event that caused them angst and a law they don’t like and present a fictional cause and effect between the two.”

“Teebonicus” writes: “Personally, I liked it better when you WEREN’T speaking out.  It’s the law. Get used to it, you bed-wetter.”

Mark Harper writes: “Hmmm…Kristina’s embarrassed that she received the Young Republican Women’s scholarship but this cretin has not refunded the money. She thinks people can walk onto planes with loaded weapons. She also thinks if someone abuses their rights, then OUR rights should be removed/restricted. She puts the words rights and liberty inside quotation marks. Kristina, if you are so concerned about government employees rummaging through your stuff, complain about the TSA looking for bottles of liquid that are more than three ounces.”

One reader (Frank) offered some reasonable-sounding advice: “If there is a threat of criminal gang members bringing guns, then searches are the only way to catch them, regardless of the restrictions on permit holders. If there is NOT a threat of criminal gang members bringing guns, then the Atlanta natatorium is choosing to prohibit concealed handguns and searching your bags for no good reason, and it is to them that you should express your resentment.”

Thanks for reading, Frank. And thank you to all of you who are willing to offer constructive work towards bipartisan solutions around the use and regulation of guns by private American citizens.  Since my original post, I’ve: a) met a man with an amputated arm who lost his arm in a gun accident as a child and b) heard a non-gun-owning friend regale her fear to discover that as she was relaxing at her local spa, another private citizen strolled into the spa with a handgun strapped to his belt.  Apparently we proud Georgians can also take guns to the spa now!



Free Grace Sticks Excerpt

"Grace Sticks is dedicated to anyone anywhere who heard a version of The Way, The Truth and the Life that made them feel more lost, swindled or less alive—and who made for the open road."

“Grace Sticks is dedicated to anyone anywhere who heard a version of The Way, The Truth and the Life that made them feel more lost, swindled or less alive—and who made for the open road.”

Thanks for bearing with yesterday’s rant against gun rights legislation in Georgia.

On another note, I was delighted to learn that Beliefnet has done a special promotion piece for my book Grace Sticks, featuring an extended excerpt from the first chapter.  Here it is for prospective readers.

Georgia’s Gunning Effect—And, Why I’m Finally Speaking Out

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has blood on his hands.

Georgia Governor Nathan Deal has blood on his hands.

I’m home! And, after returning from a 10-day vacation seeing friends and visiting national treasures in the D.C. area, I am mostly glad to be home.

A new thing about home, though, that I don’t like and am having to come to terms with: Governor Nathan Deal’s new legislation on guns has taken effect here in Georgia.  Some of you may not know that in April of this year, Deal signed a wide-ranging guns bill, the “Safe Carry Protection Act of 2014,” nicknamed by opponents (probably rightly) as “the guns everywhere bill.”  The bill allows concealed weapons just about anywhere we proud Georgia residents find ourselves, including bars and churches (which makes the next run-in with an angry vestry member or the act of turning down a pick-up line at the bar that much more intimidating, I guess).  In short, just about everywhere we Georgians go, we can, thanks to Deal, carry concealed guns…

Excepting, apparently, the city of Atlanta natatorium where my daughter takes swim lessons and where I often choose to exercise.  Now, every time we non-gun-owning or gun-toting Georgia residents—and, there are a lot of us, the apparently more silent, 95 percent-majority of Georgia’s population—choose to enter a city of Atlanta building, we will be searched, our bags opened and checked, our persons surveyed.

Yesterday I was rudely and unhappily reminded that I live in a state where a bare 5 percent minority rules: when we showed up to exercise, two city of Atlanta employees, their salaries funded by my tax dollars, were not teaching children how to swim, protecting small lives as lifeguards or, at the very least, cleaning public locker rooms; they were instead rifling through my gym bags to look for concealed weapons.  In other words, my tax dollars—and chances are, if you’re in the 95 percent of non-gun-toting Georgia residents, your tax dollars, also—are now paying the salaries of people who will spend most or all of their working time conducting searches for concealed weapons!

I can’t think of something that better encapsulates “big government” than this: government employees looking for concealed weapons in my bags on just another ordinary day of going to the gym—all this thanks to, of all ironies, a Republican governor in a Republican-controlled state.  And here I thought Republicans were the champions of smaller government.  For that matter, wasn’t the original sentiment of the Second Amendment to protect the people from the tyrannies of big government?  (I’m embarrassed to admit that in my senior year of high school I received the Young Republican Women’s scholarship!)

On the same day (among many more to come) that my tax dollars were funding the rifling through of my workout bags, two guns in two separate carry-on bags  showed up at the Atlanta Hartsfield airport—another first for us Georgians.  The owners of the guns were briefly questioned and released.  Apparently, we can also expect to spend more money interrogating gun owners who are enjoying their new-found freedom coming at the expense of the rest of us.  (Did I mention that the new law allows for guns in TSA lines at airports, too?  Yep. That’s right.  Now ordinary citizens, many of whom have met dubious background checks, will be walking on to planes with guns with the blessing of our state government.)

Deal, in signing the bill into law, couched the new act in terms of “reaffirming our liberties.”  If he had any integrity at all, he would have specified that these liberties really only pertain to the Georgia citizens who carry a concealed weapon and to the deep-pocketed National Rifle Association (NRA) that lobbies Deal’s administration with all sorts of cushy enticements.  It is a costly “liberty,” too: while it is a sign of my own self-absorption that only now (after seeing this law’s daily impact on my life) am I speaking out, the cost of that liberty, lest we forget, is not merely one of mere inconvenience on the part of the majority of us who don’t run around with guns on our person; the cost of that liberty is one of life and death of our children, our communities and our culture (in the form of the violence we implicitly promote by sending the message that gun toting is normal and right).

The cruel slogan of one guns rights advocate to victims of the Newtown massacre sums up, with masterful irony, the tragic cost of that liberty: “My constitutional rights trump your dead children,” he said.  In other words, not even the costliness of the grievous and heinous loss of innocent children’s lives should occasion some introspection around his so-called “rights” and around sensible gun legislation.  Yes, the rights of the 500,000 Georgians—in a state of 9.92 million people—now carrying concealed weapons just about anywhere and everywhere, are expensive indeed.  Not even the largesse of the deep-pocketed NRA lobby can pay the price.

Here is a clip of Deal couching his new bill in lofty terms about American freedom.  It makes me want to take a shower, after which, I’m going to start being unabashedly louder about a growing conviction that the church needs to speak out in all manner of ways on behalf of those whose lives have been lost because of the senseless deregulation of guns.

If you agree with the views expressed in this op-ed piece, please sign your name in the comments section and then forward it on to other like-minded folks.  (It would help, of course, if you’re a Georgia resident; but if you’re not, don’t let that stop you! Sign this anyway and forward it to/share it with your friends.)  I’ll send it on to my representatives if we’re able to get a sizable group of signatures.



Mental Health Break— “Happy,” Iranian Style

This week’s mental health break comes from Iran, where 6 young Iranians were arrested last month for dancing to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” in a Youtube video that went viral.  The men and women appearing in the video said they wanted to show the world that despite their hardships Iranians still find joy.  Apparently Tehran’s police chief disagreed, calling the video “obscene” and offensive to “public morals.”  In Iran women are required to wear a hijab at all times in public and social mixing of men and women is punishable by a lashing.  The director of the video remains in custody; the rest of the group were released after repenting of their crime on T.V.

Here’s to being happy and to being free:



The Golden Chair

Hi again.

I’ve missed you all.

This past week, thoughts of meeting again at this intersection between life and God have crossed my mind between writing deadlines, bedside conversations with dying patients and funeral planning. (Last week was full in so many rewarding ways, and also exhausting.) But the thought of returning to this intersection for a breath of fresh air seems a bit like that old, cozy chair in the den that you’re dying to curl up into. We had one of those growing up— “The Golden Chair,” we called it, and it was ugly.  Big, padded arms with a hulk-like frame, all in 1970’s gold velour that over the years became worn and a bit ragged but was always comfortable and homey, something you could fall into.  Our family had picked it up at a Salvation Army store during Dad’s graduate school days and it managed to hang around for years until one day, a move from California to New Mexico rendered it homeless and on the curb.

The Salvation Army store where we bought The Golden Chair is also where we met Art. If I’m not mistaken, Art sold us The Golden Chair. Art was a gentle, world-weary soul recovering from some hard knocks in life, including some time on the street himself and some ongoing struggles with alcoholism.  When The Golden Chair became part of the furniture of our living room, Art became a friend for that year of graduate school.  But when Art mysteriously drifted away, quitting his job at The Salvation Army store and no longer returning our calls, The Golden Chair stayed.  I still wonder about Art on occasion and hope he’s okay.  The Golden Chair, in contrast, ruled our living room for more than a quarter century, surviving a cross-country trip, coffee spills, the grubby hands of children, and the interior decorating tips of my mother’s friends.  It’s possible one reason we kept it for so long was that it was a way to remember Art and hope he was okay.

We also kept that chair because it was just the remedy for tired limbs.  No other chair would do for come-as-you-are bodies, be they sweaty from a workout or exhausted from a work day or dying to put their feet up.

This past week, in the absence of a Golden Chair, I’ve taken occasional solace in knowing this intersection is here, and that even when I can’t be here, you may show up—restless souls pausing to find a break in the endless rush of many commitments and distractions all competing for your attention.  Thanks for stopping by.  I hope you can be as you are here, not as you think you should be, and that even if and when circumstances may conspire to keep you away for a time– as they did me this past week– you can find rest here.

Famous Last Words, a.k.a. “The Great Commission”—A Sermon

[NOTE: If you're noticing an absence of images in recent posts, it's because we're experiencing some technical difficulties uploading images.  Thanks for bearing with us!]

This Father’s Day I’ll be preaching to Fairview Presbyterian Church on a text that will be familiar to many of you— from the last chapter of Matthew. (Some of you may know it better as “The Great Commission.”)  My sermon comes from Matthew 28:16-20: “16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It’s not just coincidence that Jesus’ very last words in Matthew’s gospel are what they are.

Last words tend to carry extra weight.  And, studies show the easiest things to remember are those that come either first or last in a sequence. You can pretty much forget about the middle.

By that logic, I could wrap up this sermon now with one final benediction and we could all go get lunch. If you’re like the average church attender in this country—which of course you’re not, because you’re the gracious, God-fearing people of Fairview Presbyterian—the main meat of my sermon won’t matter beyond that plate of ribs you’re dreaming of right now. But, if I end my sermon with some inspirational story or all the fire and brimstone of a Jonathan Edwards’ “sinners in the hands of an angry God,” you may at least be able to recall the last point of my sermon until maybe bedtime.

Last words— last acts—are memorable. We parents know this; fathers (in honoring you today)—you maybe especially know this. Your kid stomps off to his bedroom refusing to apologize to Mom for disrespecting her, and you, Dad, issue that last stern warning: “Come out and say sorry now or you lose your T.V. and computer privileges for the rest of the week.” Sure enough, usually in a few short moments that door is opening again…

Or, by way of another illustration, those of us who can regularly exercise our T.V. and computer privileges and are at least a little up on pop culture might remember other more famous last words:

  • Beetles singer and songwriter George Harrison was recorded as saying before he died, simply, “Love one another.”
  • And, can you guess the American distiller Jack Daniel’s last request? That’s right: “One last drink, please.”
  • Some of you may remember Steve Irwin, the Australian wildlife thrill seeker who starred in that crazy documentary series known as “The Crocodile Hunter.” His last words, before dying from a stingray’s puncture wound to the chest, were, unfortunately, “Don’t worry. They usually don’t swim backwards.”

But seriously, when we’re aware that something we’re about to say or do will be the very last thing we say or do, we usually tend to value our message more, don’t we?

As a hospice chaplain, I see this sort of thing play out all the time at the bedsides of dying patients. They, and their family members, want their final words to mean something lasting: to encapsulate their love in a way that endures beyond the grave.

Last words are important at other times, too—not just at death.  Before a long trip, maybe. Or a new season of life.  When I was heading off to college, my father’s one requirement (command, really) was that I take a self-defense course.  This meant I spent one whole summer practicing defense moves on instructors who, encased in thick protective padding and bulbous head gear, made unconvincing fill-ins for a would-be assailant.  (As extras in an “E.T. goes home to Darth Vader” sequel? Maybe.  As your run-of-the-mill attacker on an inner-city college campus, not so much.)

But my dad was sending me a message. I needed to be able to protect myself in that great, big, dangerous world I was heading off to as young co-ed.

In his last appearance to the disciples before ascending into heaven, Jesus sends a different sort of message, and it’s really a two-part message: part command, part promise and assurance.

First, a command that issues from Jesus’ authority over all heaven and all earth:  “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”  It’s a command that has been played and replayed by the church across the centuries, so much so that while we might not forget these famous words, we can find it easy to overlook how terrifying they would have been to hear in their original context.

To contextualize that terror a bit more, let’s recap what has just happened to the disciples leading up to this mountaintop farewell.  A strange prophet and teacher, with an other-worldly authority to do all sorts of miracles and a knack for raising the ire of the religious types of his day, shows up one day, calling these men to leave everything and follow him.  The disciples do just that, and in the process are transformed.  But just when they’ve come around to believing that Jesus is in fact their Messiah, the Savior of their people, Jesus ends up dead on a cross.  Naturally, the disciples scatter and flee only to discover three days later that their Messiah is not dead but alive and in fact rose from the dead.

Understandably, such events could be discombobulating and even traumatic for the average person.  (And Scripture suggests that Jesus chose very average—maybe even below-average—people to follow Him.)  Imagine, then, that after undergoing these things and beginning to see in them the very in-breaking of God Himself in the flesh, you were next told, shortly thereafter, that this God in the flesh would be off now, leaving you to take up His business.  I’m guessing shivers might run down your spine.  You might think twice.  You at least might have a few questions for Jesus, don’t you think?

Jesus, do you have a manual for this baptism and teaching stuff?

Jesus, if you’re making a heavenly getaway on this whole operation you started, by sending me down this mountain to finish your business, can I at least get a golden parachute? (Pun intended.)

Jesus, who is the Holy Spirit, anyway?

There would be plenty of questions, the most fundamental of which probably would be, Why exactly are we standing here on this mountain now saying goodbye to our Messiah?

Which is why I am grateful for that little clause that precedes Jesus’ command: “but some doubted.” (Want proof that Christianity is not a made-up cult? All you need to do is quote back to people that phrase.  Some doubted. That says it all. No cult would allow room for doubt.)

And I’ll say it right now: if I were in this story, I’d be among them—the doubting disciples, I mean. With a big, open-mouthed look of wonder that a guy who had been my saving hope was now taking off into the great, blue sky without abandon. Because the messianic party had only really just started, and now the host and the star of the party was taking off. The Messiah’s new triumphant order of things, of a world made right, of a people restored, was just starting to settle in when bing, Jesus was pressing the elevator button leaving me behind.  Leaving me to do the talking before chief priests and angry mobs and Roman tribunals, all of whom would prefer my head on a platter to hearing about a Messiah named Jesus.

Frankly, that kind of ending sounds anti-climactic if you ask me.

So I can readily imagine that for the first disciples, or at least for some of them, Jesus’ Great Commission could have sounded a whole lot more like this: “Gotta run, but keep the party going for me!” Or worse, “It’s been fun.  Don’t forget about those dirty dishes!”

And maybe today Jesus’ “Great Commission” still sounds a bit like dirty dish duty for many of us. In a day and age when so many people are leaving church and not looking back, when the church itself and its leaders can fail us, when we ourselves are among the doubters, how can we not be chastened— if we’re at all honest with ourselves—by a sense of our own failure? Surely most of us can appreciate by now that we, like the first disciples, are pretty incompetent when left to our own devices.

Baptizing the whole world in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit? Teaching them to obey all God’s commands? These are not small requests. Jesus is entrusting us with a great responsibility, one of witnessing to the whole world about the whole story of God’s love for us. Baptism in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, isn’t really as simple as sprinkling a few drops of water in a church service: it’s not even as hard as (for our former or resident Baptists here today) a full dunk.

No, “baptism,” when paired with the teaching of Christ’s commands, is about letting God work out in us and in the communities in which we find ourselves, or to which God sends us, the same love of God that bleeds through the lines of Jesus’ story. That love does not come easily. It’s a sacrificial love, a love that puts others first and is not afraid to die for another, or, in Jesus’ case, for a whole world. Nor is such love afraid, in an age of political correctness, to say why it is so lavishly and foolishly for the world God created.

We the church can often do a poor job at this task. It’s almost comical if it weren’t so sad. Most of the time, we prefer to stay in our comfort zones rather than risk a journey that might just change us. Or we judge others rather than love them, choosing the safety of self-righteousness over the adventure of learning from another human being. Or we fight over the small things, like morning worship, and avoid bigger matters like social justice. Or we cling to our money and time as our own possessions rather than give these away with the recognition they were not really ours to begin with.

In short, we can’t fulfill Jesus’ command on our own or in our own power. When left to our own devices, we like the first disciples, pretty quickly desert anything that remotely resembles the love of God in Christ Jesus. Which is why we so desperately need the second part of Jesus’ last message to us, which technically and thankfully are Jesus’ very, very last words as recorded in Matthew: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We will doubt. We will stumble. We will fail. But Jesus’ command here ultimately does not depend on us, even if it asks for our all.

Jesus’ command ultimately will prevail because Jesus, who is God Himself, will be with us always. And because Jesus will be with us always, we will have all the grace we need to share God’s love in word and deed.

Let me say that again, because they’re the last words of this sermon: because Jesus will be with us always, we will have all the grace we need to share God’s love in word and deed.

Let us pray:

Heavenly Father, You are in charge of this whole mission to love the world—not us.  We can barely love our own selves sometimes, not to mention our neighbors.  Remind us that your grace really is sufficient to love each person you put in front of us today and throughout this week.  Whether through word or deed, may your love be evident in us by the power of your Holy Spirit and for the sake of your Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.








Deathbed Wishes

Yesterday I visited a dying woman at the hospital.  I do this sort of thing pretty regularly these days as a hospice chaplain.  Her daughter was there, tearful but steady.

She said her family was Christian and that they were grateful in times like these for “salvation.”  She choked up when I asked whether she had given her mother permission to go.  Mom, she said, was probably lingering because she didn’t want her daughter to be saddled with all the final arrangements she was leaving behind.  But that word “salvation”—much as it does often at the bedsides of dying persons here in the South—had hovered in the room as soon as she said it.

Funny thing, the way we can talk about salvation sometimes.  In some circles, I hear the term as if it’s just another checked box on a long list of Christian-sounding jargon.  But at the bedside of this dying person, “salvation” took on real meaning.  For this woman, salvation meant she didn’t have to be quite so afraid of death, and that she would be reunited with her mother some day in paradise.  Sure, she was still grieving, and she was still scared, but the grief, if pure, wasn’t unabated.

What kills me, pun intended, is the way most of us who believe the fundamental Christian truth that we’ll one day be resurrected can seem to relegate salvation to deathbed wishes.  What if we actually lived our lives with this assurance, so that death really had no sting?

In our relationships and places of work?

In our churches?

At the gym?  100 lb dumbbells? Yes!

But seriously, deathbed wishes can be life-in-the-main ones, can’t they?

How does a promise of salvation change the way you live your life today?  Come to think of it, would a series on salvation (what it means, its theological history, etc) be helpful? You can send me your thoughts at kristinarobbdover@gmail.com or drop them in the comments section below.

“Mean Grace?” Via Flannery O’Connor

This week I’m making my way through Flannery O’Connor’s book of short stories Everything That Rises Must Converge.  (The book’s title comes from the first story that appears in this series of O’Connor’s stories.)

Three stories in, I’m struck by a common crescendo that describes O’Connor’s stories: her characters seem in some ways hopelessly and depressingly damned to their own self-constructed prisons of prejudice, self-righteousness and self-absorption— until the very end of the story, when in one final, startling, apocalyptic moment, some life-changing revelation hits them just as they meet their death.

“I desire the things which will destroy me in the end,” another author, Sylvia Plath, wrote, and maybe the same could be said of O’Connor’s characters, too.  They seem only really to begin seeing life in living colors—the kind of rich, vivid hues that will set them free—upon tasting death.  But then it’s too late, at least for this life, for such discoveries to matter.  Someone once called this common form of plot resolution in O’Connor’s stories “mean grace,” and I’m inclined to agree the reference is apropos.

But it remains hard to say in these stories whether the characters’ discoveries, however painful or lethal they may be, actually constitute grace—and maybe this ambiguity is intentional.  Maybe O’Connor leaves the reader to discern for herself whether there is in fact grace to be found in the final dissolution of these seemingly hopeless but all-too-real characters.

What do you think? Have you read O’Connor’s stories? Do you have a favorite and why? And would you agree with the assessment that her story lines often end with “mean grace”?


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