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Maybe we should judge a book by its cover

FullSizeRender-008 IMG_9890You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but you can start there. In fact, I must.

I received a mailed copy of Dr. Rilling’s book, “Have a Good Day,” that appeared to be in quite poor shape. Mildew had stained the inside cover and, while the dust jacket was mostly intact, it was fragile and dusty. Clearly this was a volume that had sat alone for a very long time. My meager attempts to wipe and clean it were of small value and succeeded only in ripping the remnants of the dust cover right in two. Gratefully, the cover had done its work. The book’s innards were quite well kept. Hardly touched. No markings in the margins. No coffee stains. Apart from the wrinkles left by dampness and exposure, all that was left behind was the “Percy R. Morrison, 1958” signed inside the book’s cover.

If anyone thought to judge this book by its cover, they certainly never would have picked it up. But I do, looking to find the man underneath, the one who’s face smiles pleasantly from the back of the book jacket. I want to ask him…Why did you publish this volume? How did you choose just these sermons? For whom? To whom? What for?

I, now the Granddaughter-sleuth, scan inside the front flap. The words there surely were not written by Dr. Rilling. It begins, “Here is an anthology of twenty-three inspirational sermons written by a skilled preacher. They are warm, understandable, down-to-earth. They supply the answers to many of the everyday questions with which the average layman is faced.”

While I didn’t know John W Rilling well, I know he was not a man who would have called himself inspirational or referred to himself as “skilled preacher.” Those accolades would have belonged to the Holy Spirit. So, someone else thought highly of him and penned them for this occasion. A friend in the publishing house, perhaps, or a fellow preacher who had encouraged him to share these in a collection.

Dr. Rilling’s eldest daughter Beth tells me her dad was known in his day as a “preacher’s preacher.” I wonder how you become so elevated when you don’t speak it yourself.

Because that is today’s way in the publishing business. (Or, at least, that has been my experience, thus far.) I was asked to write my own cover copy, in third person. ‘Go ahead, tell us how great you are and what a remarkable contribution this book is to the sea of knowledge you set it adrift on. Be glowing!’

This surely was not JWR’s way. Thank goodness. But he did know the cover text was being written, and he must have approved it for print. He was interviewed by its scribe who, on the back of the jacket writes, “Asked why he had the sermons in HAVE A GOOD DAY published in book form, Dr. Rilling replied: “Many years ago Thackeray expressed his decided preference of the gentle, pagan Hagar to “bitter old virtuous Sarah.”

“Thackeray! Who reads Thackeray?!” my sister in law cried, upon reading this. “Wow, he was well read!”

Yes, he was. But not only of the Bible and Biblical commentaries and Biblical experts of his day. He even read detractors like Thackeray, who expressed their preference for a different way, a seemingly kinder and more logical lineage through Abraham’s (actual) firstborn son, Ishmael, born to Sarah’s servant Hagar. The Muslim tradition traces its ancestry to Abraham through Ishmael.

Dr. Rilling read widely, both for and against what he knew and believed, so that he could address the objections of his day in their best representations and speak into them, with gentleness and respect. How we do need such an approach today. A humble, learned, clear-mindedness to speak confidently and boldly for what we believe which is first borne out of a willingness to know and understand those who disagree and a desire to address them in love.

The book jacket’s text continues, “Perhaps his (Thackeray’s) experience with Christians was a bit grim but such an idea which many moderns share is really a libelous caricature. The beauty of “holiness” is real, winsome and altogether attractive. To show its source, its secret and its manifestation is the purpose of this book.”

Many moderns still have a grim view of Christians, for sure. We don’t want a sermon! they say. Give us answers, explanations, proof!

John W Rilling doesn’t set out to prove. He means to share, and even to put into print, so that not only his congregation but those beyond it can receive the benefit of his steady, dedicated, studied approach, collected in 23 stories meant for 23 Sundays.  He sets out not to win us over but to engage us in the almighty struggle and set us on the road to discovering the truth for ourselves.

A very modern man, indeed.

It’s Not About the Chicken

On Mondays the church I attend, Floris United Methodist Church, has invited me to contribute a “sermon response.” I share today’s here: (for those of you reading from a distance, the Pastors are Tom Berlin (aka Tom), Tim Ward (aka Tim) and Barbara Miner (not mentioned today but she will be Barbara :)). To listen to the sermon click here.

One of the things I love about Floris church is that the pastors try very hard to prepare us for the world that will greet us when we pile out the door. Even beginning with the prayer time.

Tom asked us to bring to mind someone we love who we wanted to pray for. I immediately thought of dedicated Christian friends who have recently lit up Facebook over the stand Chick-fil-A President Dan Cathy took regarding same sex marriage. In the same prayer breath I thought of the email plea I had just gotten from the Christian conservatives, in the guise of Franklin Graham, rallying us to stand with Chick-fil-A because it is “under attack from same-sex marriage advocates.”

I wonder whether these two sides are speaking to each other, or if they are just speaking up. I would like to reply to each one, but the tone they have taken leaves me feeling they are interested in support not moderation.  I wonder how they are praying for each other. They are bitter enemies.

Just in the nick of time this is the scripture we were meant to consider in worship…

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. ~ Matthew 5:43-45″

This, Tim Ward told us, is what distinguishes us as Christians. In fact we are commanded to love those who don’t love us. I find that incredibly hard. But what if I pray for them, that is, what if I lift them in prayer into the presence of Love and let God love them even if they don’t look very likeable to me? even and especially when they are not acting very likable toward one another. I expect I might start to see them very differently. Perhaps they would see each other so.

That is my challenge today because the way I look at it if as Christians we don’t pray for our Christian “enemies” and allow that to change the way we relate to one another, the agnostics and the atheists can just sit back and let our anger do their job for them. They need do nothing but watch and chuckle as we implode.

And they are not the only ones watching. In the midst of the fracas I need to explain all this to the young adults in my life who are looking on and saying, “If church acts like that, I don’t want to have any part in it.” One of them recently posted a link on my Facebook wall entitled, “It’s not about the Chicken.” I’m giving thanks today, as I do everyday, that we can be in conversation.

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