"Preach the gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

Thursday, January 24, 2013

The Winds of Change

  There stands a great forest with many trees and vegetation. Many of the trees are old and showing signs of weakness; others in the prime of their lives and stand firm and produce many leaves. Their roots grow deep into the ground and even the mightiest of storms barely cause movement other than the outermost limbs and leaves. Still others are young, pliable and have difficulty in the windy and stormy days that come.

  For years, the forest remains secure in the circle of life and the cycle of life runs without causing any major disruption in the community. However, at times, a great wind will come and many of the trees do not survive if they are unable to withstand the buffeting and turmoil brought to them.

  We are all like that forest and such a wind is coming. We are buffeted on all sides by disruptions of nature, such as droughts, hurricanes, melting ice caps and the like. The winds of politics blow in uncertain directions with no clear distinctions between candidates and platforms. All we seem to hear is empty rhetoric and what everyone else is doing wrong. We hear churches arguing about other churches, charities disclosing untrue claims about other charities, healthcare not meeting the needs of the many who need help and public policies being changed without the input of the public.

  Innocent children in Africa and other countries are dying from starvation and AIDS due to the lack of funding and internal wars that prohibit help from being received. Friends and loved ones are contracting illnesses that we have to face even though we would rather crawl into bed and deny it happening. We find ourselves frustrated, anxious, angry and disappointed. The forest is in chaos as trees begin to sway and many snap off bringing down the tender young trees as they crash to the ground below. The future of the forest is in danger as the storm swirls and many of the young are being destroyed within their core and their roots are pulled loose.

  In these times, we can remember the writings of Isaiah that tell us, “when you pass through the waters of life, I will be with you; and through the rivers, you will not be overwhelmed. When you pass through the fires in your path, the flames will not burn you and you will not be consumed by the fire because I am the Lord your God, the Holy one of Israel.” (Isaiah 43:2-3).

  In my own personal world, the winds of change are blowing even as I write. My tree is swaying and upheaval seems close at times. I am not one to easily face changes of life because I prefer the security and comfort of the known instead of the challenges of the unknown. I am learning that through change, we grow; we learn and become stronger as humans and as a community.

  I would encourage anyone facing the winds of change to remain strong, remember that your roots run deep if your faith is in God and that He will keep you from breaking.

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Just let me sing my hymns....

  It’s a tough thing to be a religion writer. I’m not speaking of the deadlines for a newspaper column, but the fact that we are expected to give advice, encouragement and share the happy life of the Christian person. And, speaking for myself, sometimes we just don’t feel it. And it’s a struggle.

  My writing style has always been one of transparency; to let you folks know what I’ve been through in an attempt to encourage you that you are not alone. God has always been with me in the darker times and with His help and presence, I have managed to pull through without harm to my faith. And so can you! Lately I have (once again) gotten caught up into the ongoing preferences of worship - contemporary vs. traditional.

  I am a traditional worshipper at heart. I prefer the traditional hymns of faith, organ, piano and maybe an acoustic guitar and a flute. I like handbells and candles. I like using a hymn book, responsive readings, the Apostle’s Creed, the Doxology and the spoken prayer and scripture responses. However, before I alienate most of you, there are some contemporary praise and worship songs that I like because they speak to my heart and create calmness in my spirit. But, generally and personally speaking, that’s not my usual worship preference.

  Many times we more traditional-type Christians will be made to feel as “less” because we don’t enjoy all the electrical instruments with repetitive words and loud and louder sounds with almost indiscernible words….even though those words are repeated over and over.

  “How can you as a Christian, Jimmy, not be moved by the emotional feelings that loud music with a thrumming drumbeat can evoke? How can you worship without jumping up and down with your hands raised and your eyes closed?”

  And, on the other hand, perhaps we more traditional worshipping Christians have spoken too quickly and judgmentally for those who enjoy the contemporary styles.   

  “How can you not worship God in the more quiet and orderly ways of worship? What’s wrong with enjoying classical music and beautiful hymns being sung that have given God praise for hundreds of years? At least they don’t say the same four or five words over and over and over.”

  Folks, understand what I am trying to say. If the contemporary style of worship is your style, then that is great. God is in it. And, if traditional worship is your style, then that is great. God is in it, too. But, don’t judge or diss those who prefer a different style than yours. When it all shakes out, God is the same God for all who worship Him whether liturgical, traditional, blended or contemporary. None of us, me included, have the spiritual right to discount another’s style of worship. It only causes harm in the fellowship.

  And the funny thing is that all this above comes from a very traditional guy who totally loves to worship in a bar church on Tybee Island. Go figure? Our God is a great God….but, hey, He definitely has a sense of humor!

  And for today my friends, this has been the gospel according to Jimmy.