My Fellow Americans

“The good man out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil man out of his evil treasure produces evil; for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.  Luke 6:45 (RSV)

When Franklin Roosevelt was inaugurated president for the first time in March of 1933 the country was even more divided than it is today. There was so such unrest that machine guns were trained on the crowds that gathered to hear him speak. He was able to calm the fears as he spoke his first words. The goodness of his heart poured out on the crowds and through the country. “My fellow Americans,” seemed to melt frozen spirits. Thus began the most amazing twenty minutes in American history. He went on to quote more Scripture than any modern politician would dare do today.

According to Christine Wicker, religion writer, “Franklin Roosevelt’s powerful biblical imagery brought hope to a nation in the depths of an economic and social crisis, and instilled support for his progressive social vision.”  His most potent weapon against the nation’s despair was the Bible.

Of course the Bible has been used since the founding of our country for good and evil. It was used to defend slavery and spousal and child abuse. It is used today to defeat programs for the poor or to encourage programs for the poor. Many uses of Scripture by politicians today are simply not understood by their younger audiences. Unlike the older generation, they have not grown up steeped in Scriptural references. References to sport heroes or rock stars gain far more attention.

We need heroes who inspire us. Mine has always been FDR. Ms. Wicker is writing a book on the faith of FDR. I am looking forward to reading it.

 

Green Lake Christian Writer’s Conference Refreshes and Inspires

In August I spent five wonderful days at the Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin. I had wanted to go there ever since my friend, Don Bynum, told me about it.  I was attending the 68th Annual Green Lake Christian Writer’s Conference. Green Lake is a beautiful place far away from any population center. It took no time to feel relaxed. Carol and Jan joined me on the trip. They toured while I attended sessions.

The people I met were gracious, interesting, thoughtful, and creative. I made wonderful new friends including Rev. Jim Wooten and his wife, Becky. Jim is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Beaufort, SC. and a fantastically funny story teller. The three of us were there for the first time. Jim is the former pastor at Earl Street Baptist Church in Greenville, SC where I attended as an undergraduate at Furman University long before Jim’s tenure.

Kris Wood did a great job organizing the conference. The speakers were both helpful and inspiring.  Lin Johnson and Wendy Walters both offered wonderful assistance.  Dr. Linda Locke, a former public school administrator, is a crusader against bullying. We talked a lot about the importance of words. She writes and speaks on the subject. I bought a recording of soothing piano music by fellow attendee Darlene Davis. I continue to play it. It is wonderful.

An unexpected bonus was the number of well-mannered college students there from Bethel University attending a leadership conference. One young woman took the time to educate me about Converge Baptists which is the former Swedish Baptist General Conference.

The morning meditations led by Rev. Karen Gygax Rodrigues, pastor of the local Federated Church were very thought provoking and instructive.  She also played the piano, guitar and sang. The church is supported by American Baptists, United Church of Christ and United Methodists.

I welcomed the opportunity to promote Say Something Nice Sunday. Before I left I was excited to learn that the Green Lake Conference Center (American Baptists) will join our movement as will the Immanuel Baptist Church in Minot, North Dakota. Rev. Brian Skar brought a group of volunteers from his church in Minot to do work on the buildings and grounds while he was in sessions. He led a series of devotional services for teenagers in the evenings.

I learned a lot. Met wonderful people, but most of all I was refreshed and inspired, I was reminded daily of the goodness of people and the splendor of God’s creation

Thank You Is Not Enough for These Mind Benders

For the last several months I have kept the focus of this blog on Christian Civility, Christian Communication and Christian Ethics. I have asked so many thought provoking men and women whom I respect to help me. The John A. Hamrick Lectures which enriched our lives so deeply are no more. Carol and I have been unable to attend The Chautauqua Institution in New York State in the past couple of years where we have been so inspired by the speakers; therefore, I decided to create my own Chautauqua and to share it. How blessed I am that these people are a part of my life.

How could I have had a better start than with renowned Bible scholar and theologian Glenn Hinson? Glenn lectured at the Hamrick Lectureship. He was followed by a young dynamic Children’s Minister, Emory Hiott. Emory represents the future of the church. Next came my long term friend and mentor, Dr. Monty Knight. Rev. Dr. John Johnson, a friend from Furman University days and an Episcopal priest rounded out the first month.

August started with Thomas Crowl, a retired Judge, and author of, In His Service, a book of devotionals. Rev. Maria Swearengin, was the assistant chaplain at Furman University.  She is now a pastor at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, DC. Rev. Dr. Molly, Marshall, president of Central Baptist Seminary, and Rev. George Rossi followed through. George is a counselor at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Marshall spoke twice at the Hamrick Lectures.

Rev Stephanie McLeskey is the chaplain at Mars Hill University. Sarah Pinson is active in food health in the Charleston area and is an active member of Circular Congregation Church. Dr. Douglas Hunter at the time was the Director of the Whitfield Christian Life Center at Charleston Southern University.  Robert Darden is a professor of Journalism, Public Relations and New Media at Baylor University. Penn State University Press published his two volume history of protest songs and spirituals, Nothing but Love in God’s Waters. Rev. Paul Stouffer is a retired missionary and was a classmate at Mars Hill University.

Linda Wertheimer is the author of, Faith Ed. It is an absolutely splendid work. Kris Wood is the organizer for the Christian Writer’s Conferences at Green Lake, Wisconsin, Dr. Bill Leonard is a global speaker and professor at Wake Forest University Divinity School. Bill also spoke at the Hamrick Lectures and at the Lenten Lectures at Mepkin Abbey. Fredrick Schmidt is a professor at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary.

Rev. Matt Sapp is the pastor of Heritage Fellowship Baptist Church in Canton, Georgia and a frequent contributor to www.ethicsdaily.com. Rev. Brian Skar is the pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Minot, North Dakota. We met at the Green Lake Christian Writer’s Conference. Rev. Dr. Linda Bridges is part of the Spotlight International Education Group and a former faculty member at Wake Forest University Divinity School. She and I first met at the Chautauqua Institution. Rev. Deborah Meister is the former Rector at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC. Rev. Julia Rusling is a priest associate at St. Patrick’s Episcopal Church in Dunwoody, GA.

Dr. Mark Labberton is the president of Fuller Evangelical Theological Seminary and Dr. Richard Mauw is President Emeritus. Dr. Mauw contributed a chapter to my book, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. His book, Uncommon Decency, is a masterpiece. If you have not read it, go out and get it. While you are at it get his book, Praying at Burger King.

RChristina Embree is director of children and family ministries at Nicholasville United Methodist Church near Lexington, Kentucky. She is a wife, mother and writer. Dr. Eric Barreta is a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary.

Rev. Dr. Shawnethea Monroe is the minister at Plymouth Church, United Church of Christ in Shaker Heights, Ohio. She has two posts back to back. My friend, Rev. George Rossi, is also back with an excellent discussion of physical, mental and spiritual health. Retired Judge Thomas Crowl is back to help us start the New Year.

What a tremendous blessing this has been. These contributions Merritt reading again and again. Thank you all.

The Chance to Begin Again – Thomas Crowl*

PHIL:3:13…No dear brothers and sisters, I am not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead. I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.

THE CHANCE TO BEGIN AGAIN

As I sat on the grass at my high school many years ago I listened to my track coach say…”Just when you are about to throw in the towel you will find a new depth within you…a second wind…to help you finish the race and find glory”. The coach looked around and saw many who shook their heads thinking he must be talking about someone else! I was thinking something else…maybe he’s right…maybe I do have that inner strength if I just pushed a little harder. This experiment would lead me to victory not only on the track but also in life. It seems like every time we reach a barrier a gentle voice is urging us on to be a little better. New Years is just such a time.

We are never too old…never lacking in knowledge…never without hope such that we cannot grasp the golden ring handed us by Paul’s words above for, just like my track coach, victory lies just beyond the next challenge. This time of year calls out for many “resolutions” that may never be kept. Weight Watchers…treadmill salesmen and an endless list of folks stand waiting to sell us on some new plan or device. In reality the greatest tool for our success was given us by our Savior. The chance to begin again needs no special tools, is not a mindless listing of promises that won’t be kept. It is the spark that gave us life and the promise of God for the blessing of eternity.

It is in the realization that we are perfect and possess all the capability to meet any challenge… the genuine hope for a better life…a better year…and the blessing of eternity that must live in our Christian spirit. When we begin to accept the perfection that gave up life on Calvary, that we might know grace, we find the absolute reassurance to finish the race. Draw in that sacred promise and fulfill the blessed hope God gave us at our birth and this year and all those to follow will be better for it.

HEAVENLY FATHER…Let us draw in the great strength that finds its being in your finest gift. Never let us forget you are always there for us urging us on to fulfill the special destiny that lives in this New Year.

PAUL’S ADVICE TO THE CORINTHIANS AND THE SPECIAL COURAGE TO BEGIN AGAIN IS GOD’S GREATEST GIFT TO MAN.

*Thomas Crowl is a retired judge living in Florida.

Where Spirituality and Illness Meet: The Middle Ground – Rev. George Rossi*

Some people need to become more human.  Some people need to become more spiritual.

Wholeness is found in the middle ground.  It’s the place where the coastal sea water from the Atlantic Ocean meets the black soil of the South Carolina coast.  It’s a rich and fertile place where marsh grass thrives, shrimp populate the grassy reeds, and redfish troll the high tides for dinner. The meeting and convergence of water and land is much like the meeting of the physical and the spiritual.  It’s the place where one has to merge with the other and something magical and something important becomes reality.

As a minister my growing edge is on the “becoming more human” side of the equation.  Just recently I read an excellent tweet from Twitter that was trying to “normalize” (eliminate shame) the fact that humans become physically ill, experience terrible disease processes, and eventually face difficult medical challenges.  For some that happens very early in life as a neonatal baby, and for others in their 20’s, and the much more fortunate, those in their the 50’s and 60’s when one has to carry more daily medications in his or her briefcase just to take care of themselves one more day.  Here’s the point of the tweet I mention and my point now:  Having illness is “normal” because it is reality and we have to find ways to talk about it more and to recognize our humanness, our fragile bodies that depend on equilibrium and homeostasis.  Yet, sometimes we are anything from feeling even-keeled or living in a good equilibrium.  A recent prescribed dose of antibiotics confirmed my disequilibrium as my stomach rumbled and tried to cope with the antibiotics.

Honoring our imperfect bodies is a way to honor our deep connection with God.  It means looking to God for grace so that one can “gracefully age.”  Sometimes prayers and reading and reflection can help one “accept one’s humanity which does eventually include illness.”

I encourage you and me to find fellow strugglers who are able and want to live in the middle.  In my case, the goal is to accept my humanity, find true physical and spiritual wellness, and to live a balanced life.  Illness can send that balance out of orbit with one abnormal lab result for sure.    I think we need more ministers, more medical professionals, more people who can help others and themselves to “normalize” the experience of illness and give people space and time to make sense of it.  I venture that healing will happen as people balance medical challenges with an alive faith and in that find health and meaning and purpose for living.

GeorgeM Rossi* at 1:28 AM George is a counselor at the Medical University of South Carolina.


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