Monday, October 30, 2017
My family and I just returned from a great Fall Break trip to Hawaii. For all of us, it was a refreshing vacation and a wonderful time with the family, centered mostly around the north shore of Oahu, at Turtle Bay. While there, my father, who came along on the trip, decided to go scuba diving. Because he has done scuba diving around the world, he brought his own equipment along with him. He lugged onto the plane his own flippers, mask, regulator, and most importantly, his own scuba diving computer. A scuba diving computer is an instrument that all divers use today that lets a them know how much oxygen they have left, the direction to the boat, how deep they are, and which direction to swim. So, one morning dad went on a dive. He found himself in a sea cave about 100 feet down, when the worst possible scenario happened. His scuba diving computer went dead. Within the belly of a big dark cave, 100 feet beneath the surface of the water, my father was basically lost, blind, and unknowing about how to escape. Fortunately, by sheer instinct, he made his way to the surface safely, though he said upon arriving back in his hotel room that it was one of the scariest experiences of his life. The next day, my dad summarily bought a new scuba diving computer!
My dad's brush with danger involving his scuba computer recently caused me to think about the idea of conscience. Our consciences are like a well functioning (or not so well functioning) scuba diving computers. They tell us what is right and what is wrong. They remind us of when we are getting too deep into something in our lives for our own safety. They help us know where the shore is, and how to get to safety.
As so happens, the concept of "conscience" was a seminal idea of the Protestant Reformation (The 500th anniversary of which we just commemorated yesterday). Of all the contributions of the Protestant Reformation in the world (the concept of free health care, public education, separation of Church and State, a free market economy), the notion of conscience is, in my opinion the most important contribution to humanity.
In the mid 1500's, The Reformers had a bold and big and new idea. This was their idea. That all people have a conscience. ALL people. This conscience that we have, which is a God given gift is not related to our education, or our economic background, or our cultural background, or even whether or not we are Christian. All people, the Reformers believed, have a conscience. Our consciences are informed and directed by God (for history buffs, this is what the framers of the Declaration of Independence meant, when they said, "All men are created equal, endowed by their creator with inalienable rights.") This conscience works within each of us to help us know what to do in our lives, which direction to move, what kinds of decisions to make, when we are in danger, when we need to get help.
Here are some of my favorite quotes about conscience:
* John Calvin, a Reformer, said; "Conscience, instead of allowing us to stifle our perceptions and sleep without interruption, acts as an inward witness and monitor, reminding us of what we owe to God and convicting us of departure from duty."
* Shakespeare wrote a lot of his plays around the concept of conscience. In the play, Richard III, Queen Margaret says of conscience; "Conscience...the worm...that be-gnaws the soul."
* And Will Willimon, my favorite professor in my Dmin program with Fuller said; "Our consciences help determine what we will look like when we are 65. That's the question, because your decisions will either reinforce your development into that person or weaken it. So, your choices make a difference, not so much in what we do in the world, but in what they are doing in us."
This past week, we have seen a number of people not only listen to their consciences, but act upon them in heroic and courageous ways. A US Senator from Arizona departed from his own party and president to say that in his opinion, President Donald Trump is an, "indecent person, and a danger to democracy." Asked later why he made this landmark speech, Jeff Flake said, "It was in direct response to what my conscience was telling me to do. How could I look my children in the eye in future generations, and not say what I said on the floor of Congress?"
Rose McGowan, an actress who was sexually harassed and abused by a powerful Hollywood film producer said recently that her decision to speak up came from a place of wanting to stand up for what's right, and to stop the corruption that she experienced at the hands of an abuser - Harvey Weinstein. Rose McGowan listened to her conscience.
These are just two examples of people in the world recently who have listened to the God given consciences that they possess, and then had the courage to act upon their consciences.
I can say that in my 45 years of life, that my conscience has saved me many times from situations that I should not have been in, of relationships that I needed to end, of people I needed to separate from, of jobs I needed to leave, of denominations I needed to separate from (ECO). In short, I am who I am because of the conscience that God has given me. The strength I have as a person comes from the decisions I have made when my conscience went off in my heart like a five alarm fire, warning me to abandon what I had once thought was a good and safe situation, and quickly swim to the surface and find safety.
One of my favorite writers, Fred Buchner, put it this way; "The main question is what we are going to BE when we grow up. Not what we are going to Do, what profession we are going to follow, what niche we are going to choose for ourselves. But what we are going to BE inside ourselves, and among ourselves."
Our world needs more people who, like Jeff Flake and Rose McGowan, and the Reformers before them, who not only listened to their consciences, but courageously acted on them, and in the process, attempted to make the world a better place.
All For Now,
Sunday, October 15, 2017
Dear Blogpost readers,
I wanted to let you know that my family and I are all taking about 10 days to get some R&R while the girls are on Fall-break, for a bit of a family vacation. I will write again in this space on Oct. 30.
In the meantime, I wanted to share a great quote from C.S Lewis I found tonight while reading to Haley before bed. I was reading, "The Horse and His Boy" from, "The Chronicles of Narnia", to Haley, and this quote came along;
[Of the main character - Shasta]; "He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one." (p. 155)
From this great quote I take the idea that God gives challenges to us commensurate with the good work that we have already done. If a person hasn't done anything particularly good, God won't give that person more. However, if a person has done good things, more is coming...
All For Now,
Monday, October 2, 2017
Last week, at the Christian private elementary school where my two youngest daughters attend, there were a series of theme based days where the pupils were encouraged to dress up according to the fashion ascribed for that day. So, Wednesday was "Wacky Day", and Friday was "Sports Day" (I can't remember what Monday and Tuesday were, possibly "Normal Day" and "Mix and Match Day"). However, I do remember what Thursday was - "Spiritual Day".
Now, you would think that because I am a "man of the cloth" that helping my kids to figure out what to wear on "Spiritual Day" would be easy. It wasn't. What does a person wear on "Spiritual Day?" What do "Spiritual Clothes" look like? In earnest I checked my closet for possibilities. They could wear one of my clerical stoles that I sometimes wear in church...I suggested helpfully. No way! Smart girls. They could wear the clerical collar that I wore when I first started the ministry (sometimes known as a "dickey" or a "tabs"). Not on your life! Very smart girls. They could wear the tartan Yarmulke that I was given by my cousin when I helped perform the ceremony at her Jewish/Christian wedding. Nope.
Wisely my two daughters opted for something much more understated - a simple gold cross on Haley, and a skirt featuring the "flowers of the heavens" by Sheena.
But the arrival of "Spiritual Day" did make me think about what it means to dress spiritually in a modern context. As Protestants, we have mostly seen the garb that we wear on the outside as less important than the clothes we wear in our hearts. But not always. On the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the "Complaints" on Wittenberg's All Saints Church Door, we should remember that Luther dressed as a monk, even after he broke from the Catholic Church. Shakers women, an off-shoot of the Quakers in England, were known to wear white head coverings and white triangle shaped fabric around their necks.
The Puritans, who basically founded America, probably were the Protestant group who embodied the need to dress-up in a spiritual way more than any other. Puritans emphasized moderation in all things. They emphasized "inward ornamentation of the soul". In 1634, Massachusetts General Court banned the use of lace and some other adornments such as beaver hats. Interestingly, the color black is often associated with the Puritans, but most did not actually wear black, because of the expense of the black dye.
As I kid, I can still remember looking forward to getting dressed up to go to church. Before we left the house, my brother and sister and I would put on sports jackets and ties and Laura Ashley dresses. For us, "Spiritual Day" meant looking forward to looking our best.
Today, most people who attend church see it as a time when, on their day off, they want to wear whatever is comfortable. And good for them. For as the book of Proverbs says, "Those who do not study, are only cattle dressed up in men's clothes" (Prov. 94). Moo!
All For Now,