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Getting it Straight from the Source

We live in a world where new and improved is always better than old and decrepit. Of course. New has the benefit of advanced methods, complete research, and dedicated study applied liberally over all that has come before it. Old, well that was just a starting point. Those were the blocks we stood in to give us leverage when the race began.

One of the things that new has ushered in is statistical…accuracy. We can fact check, provide proof, cite our sources, justify our positions. We can qualify, and oh boy, can we quantify! We know exactly how many people would vote thus and so, believe this and that, trust him or her. We know. We are new and improved people. We are reasonable.

So, it’s a bit alarming to read in the morning paper that “Recent polls show that 29 percent of Americans and nearly 45 percent of Republicans say he (President Obama) is a Muslim.”

How do we say this? We tell a pollster who reports it, I guess. Do we know this when we say it? Have we asked Mr. Obama about his faith? Have we read deeply concerning his opinions, positions, actions and responses? This would seem reasonable before we say anything.

What we report in the media is, perhaps, what we believe to be true. Given what we think we know, this is what we conclude. Perhaps those numbers reflect what people believe about President Obama, but that doesn’t make it so. (The article actually goes on to debunk this belief.) Just because we think it, doesn’t make it so. Any more than thinking I am President makes that so.

If we think we can do make something true, right, happen, reasonable, or real, just because we think it, we are mistaken. That isn’t ours; that’s God’s. God thinking something actually does make it so. When we think something, we move in its direction, but we’d do well not to presume that our thinking it actuates it. That would presume we are God, which has very grave consequences, indeed.

Fleming Rutledge, an Episcopal preacher that a friend has me reading, writes concerning what she calls the battle of the billboards. “Upon entering the Lincoln Tunnel you stare at a billboard showing a Nativity scene and the words ‘You know it’s a myth.’ When you come out of the tunnel you see a billboard with a Nativity scene and the words ‘You know it’s real.'”

She goes on, “The atheist billboard says, “This season, celebrate reason.” I revere reason as much as the atheists do—up to a point. But what faith knows is that although reason is a gift, it is not a god. Reason cannot explain everything. Certainly it cannot explain the purposes and promises of God.”

Our believing, remembering, repeating or tallying does not make something so. But setting our minds on the things of God may bring them nearer.

“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Phil 4:8)

When God remembers His mercy, He is not calling it again to mind. He is taking action on our behalf. As Rutledge puts it, “God’s mercy is not static. It goes forth from God as a promise already becoming a reality.”

We can pray to be like-minded. That’s as old and original as it gets.


Who’s Stealing Your Good Day?

“We must be prepared to have certain things done to us.”

Well, you don’t have to tell me that twice. Have you seen the way people drive around here? Cutting you off, swerving in and out of your lane, passing you on the right… And don’t get me started on the pushing and shoving at the mall. Christmas is coming, you know?

checkout selfOh, but the worst is that person who comes after you in the self check-out line and sends his purchases along the conveyor belt before you have packed your things up. And his stuff starts bump, bumping into your stuff. And you look up at said person, incredulous that he doesn’t notice what he’s doing, and he’s happily scanning away.

‘Put your bananas on the belt’…and so he does. Really? Can anyone be more annoying? But, it’s to be expected, right?

And for just such an occasion, Peter advises, “Do not return evil for evil or reviling for reviling; but, on the contrary, bless, for to this you have been called, that you may obtain (inherit) a blessing.” (I Peter 3:9)

Be prepared … so that what I do next does not disqualify me from the family inheritance. It’s not that I don’t have a right to be annoyed by self-checker, or drive-and-texter, or Humbug-hurrier, it’s that Love must look different from the rest of the world. On all these occasions.

Honestly, most Christians I know are generous. They volunteer their time, donate their money, serve the needy, feed the poor and hungry. Some even travel to far away places where poverty is great and resources are few to build churches and schools. These people are amazing.

But, I also know people who would not call themselves Christians but are exceedingly generous just the same. They donate their money. They volunteer time and resources. They give to the less fortunate and they may even travel long distances to do it. I am amazed by these people, perhaps even more amazed than I am by the Christians, because Christians have marching orders; these folks are just doing what’s right.

So what’s the difference, if good is getting done? Perhaps it is this very self checkout thing. Christ calls us to act differently from the world, especially when we are wronged. When we have something done to us, an injury or ailment befalls us, or we are the victim of unfairness or prejudice, we are prepared. We don’t return evil for evil.

But wait. No one in their right mind would just let that guy’s groceries barrel into hers without giving him a piece of her mind! I mean, he needs to know better so that he doesn’t do it to someone else. Or maybe I’ll teach him a lesson and put his granola bars into MY bag. Or casually smash the incoming eggs with my hefty orange juice. Ah, this could get ugly.

And that’s the thing. When we are unprepared, ugly wins. And I don’t mean his ugly: I mean my ugly. I can defeat that foe only when I recognize it before it’s unleashed and send it away. If I want to have a good day, I need to be prepared, for people and occasions like this.

Not just grin and bear it so it has a happy ending. Not just grit my teeth so I can “earn” that blessing I “deserve” because I showed amazing restraint. No, I can adopt a frame of mind that will address the problem calmly and satisfactorily, solely because I haven’t let ugly take it from me.

Hey – did you know that there is a plastic bar folded to the side of the conveyor belt that you can extend in order to separate your order from that guy’s behind you? Me neither, until, after grinning and gritting, I got so irritated I went to complain to the manager.

It’s not my job to teach that guy a lesson, but I don’t need to let him steal my good day today. Tomorrow, of course, is another day.

The Life of a Book

My paternal grandfather didn’t set out to be a writer. In fact, I’m told he wanted to be an opera singer. These aspirations took him traveling across Germany where he learned to speak the language fluently and, as it turns out, fell in love with the life and writings of Martin Luther. So much so that he translated many from the original German because he felt existing translations had missed the mark.

FullSizeRender (6)-001In his diligence and with study and devotion, John W. Rilling eventually became a Lutheran minister, pastor, and preacher. He also, as it turns out, became a writer. Today, I am privileged to have possession of a “first edition,” hard back copy entitled, “Have a Good Day”… Sermons by John W. Rilling. Inscribed on the inside cover:

“To John, my son,

Tolle Lege! Tolle lege!

Dum vivimus, vivamus!!



I, not knowing the Latin which would have been the language of the Learned and the Church in Dr. Rilling’s day, happily used my modern day technology to attempt translation:

“To John, my son,” …. not, to my son John, which would have sounded trite and diminishing, but to John, my son, which echos a voice from heaven which speaks, this is my Son, whom I love, my only son. As my father was to his father.

“Tolle Lege! Tolle lege!”… Take up and read! Apparently from the account of Augustine’s conversion to Christ in his spiritual autobiography ‘Confessions’. My grandfather read widely. His home office and study was filled floor to ceiling with books of the great thinkers of the day and of history. These were his plea to his son, who did not take much to books but rather to fixing and tinkering, to go himself to Word and words and find the truth for himself.

“Dum vivimus, vivamus!!” … While we live, let us live. Don’t wait. Don’t waste a moment. Do it now!! Grandfather’s hand has corrected the spelling of the first “vivimus” which he originally wrote “vivamus, vivamus.” He edited himself, in pen, in inscription, because the proper tense was essential for understanding.

It is amazing what meaning travels down across generations. I am not sure my father, John F. Rilling, ever read this book, though it kept its place on a bookshelf spanning many moves, many jobs, many travels. It came to him 5 months after the birth of his first child, a son. And remained through life’s changes, including the last. My father died a year ago and his beloved wife saved the book for me.

Today, as I read it, sermon by sermon, it shows me who my grandfather was. I had an inkling but must confess I did not know him. The book literally speaks across generations. The phrasing and the storytelling, the meaning so subtle and profound, the message as true today as it was in the 1950’s when it was spoken to a dear congregation. It begs me to read it out loud. So powerful are its thoughts, I have to take a day or two between readings to digest what he’s written.  Who knew the old could be made so new again?

Such is the power of words, carefully culled and selected, so they might be collected in a book to be published and shared. And signed. What a treasure. What a trust. What a miracle.

If today we communicate wirelessly by an internet we can’t see, is it so impossible that words may speak across generations and even, perhaps, across the veil?

My grandfather could not have known when he wrote them that I would ever read his words. They were published before I was born. Yet, they have landed on me and touched me deeply. Gone straight to the heart of another one who didn’t set out to be a writer, rather a thinker and a doer. But something in me kept nagging…you’ve got to write that book so others can know and do for themselves…you can write that book.

“While we live, let us live!

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