Frederick Buechner in his book Now and Then says that when he studied at Union Theological Seminary, one of the faculty members that left so powerful and lasting impression on him was James Muilenburg. One of the things that he vividly remembered him saying was:
“Every morning when you wake up, before you reaffirm your faith in the majesty of a loving God, before you say I believe for another day, read the Daily News with its record of the latest crimes and tragedies of mankind and then see if you can honestly say it again.” (1)
Buechner goes on to say that Muilenburg didn’t or couldn’t or wouldn’t resolve, intellectualize, evade, the tensions of his faith but lived those tensions out, torn almost in two by them at times. His faith was not a seamless garment but a ragged garment with the seams showing, the tears showing, a garment that he clutched about him like a man in a storm.
Like Muilenburg, we struggle with that tension every day .
We struggle with what we really need in this life. We seem to be in a daily battle in this materialistic culture between needs and wants. Do we need just our physical requirements to be met? I think we need much more than that to grown into mature human beings. I have read recently of studies on the importance of the family meal when our children are growing up. The studies have shown that eating together regularly as a family have positive effects on raising our children.
Some of this research is put forward in a book by Harvard psychologist Dan Kindlon in Too Much of a Good Thing: Raising Children of character in an Indulgent Age. It is not just the food that is important. Sitting down as a family, even if it is micro-waved pizza, is a way to reconnect, share and bond. This kind of bonding balances the negative influence of popular culture and wrong-tracked friends. Our children surely need food, but they also need guidance, structure and love. (2)
In other words, we do not live by bread alone.
We also try continually to hold on to a passionate, risk-taking, shuddering trust in a loving God even in the face of so much despair and darkness in the world. We find ourselves trying to hold on to the light in the midst of darkness. It is so difficult. We want to call upon God to intervene – to change things rather than to be with us in our suffering and pain. We try to bargain with God. “God, if you do this, I promise to do this”. We hold on to infantile concepts of God as controller of all things, as a “fixer” who exists to serve our needs. In looking the desperate situations that confront us we ask God “What are you going to do about this?”. Whereas we need to really ask , “What can we do ourselves or with others to deal with this.”
I remember a number of years ago being in a Group Life Lab and twelve of us would gather in a T Group for a couple of hours each day. The designated leader would sit there not giving any instruction as to what we were to do in the group. We would keep trying to get him to help us. All he would say is “I believe that the members of the group have the resources within themselves to deal with this situation.” We finally realized that he was always passing the ball into our court. We eventually began to work together as a group and to determine what the nature of the group would be. We realized that our time together was a great gift and we were able to use all the strengths and resources available to us to determine the best use our time together in the most creative and productive way. It was an amazing ten days of discovering what we could really do with what we had all the time.
I think that in time we come to a place in our faith where instead of expecting God to change things for us and do things for us that we need to do things for ourselves. We have the power within ourselves to act alone or together with others to act as instruments of change in numerous situation that confront us. When we can do that, we become more mature in our faith and thus realize the wonder of being fully human and fully alive. Life is not a test for God. The test is how far we are willing to go and what we are willing to do in the place where our greatest gifts and the world’s greatest needs intersect..
We also are challenged in all our relationships with regard to the use and abuse of power. It is not merely our political leaders that face this challenge. Our struggle for power can be found in our nation and in the Church. In fact most of the problems that we face in the church or any congregation are power problems. There are always those people who lust after the control of others. The same struggle is found in marriages and families. It is found in the work place. It is found in educational institutions. It is found in sports. It is found anywhere people gather for a purpose. The lust for power is constant and brings about much havoc in our world. Some of us would do anything, even sell our souls, to be in control of others or show ourselves to be superior to others basking in the glory of it all.
The temptations of Christ that we see in the Gospels are our temptations. The wilderness in which we struggle is never ending. The battle is life long.
During the Lenten season it is time to become aware of where we struggle with these issues in whatever situation we find ourselves in at the present time. Whether it is in our homes, in our work, in our communities and in the world we need to examine the true values by which we are living. Then, we look for the light in the midst of our darkness and where we can fan the flames of true compassion towards others.
Yes, maybe we need to take the advice of James Muillenburg and every morning read the daily news with all its latest crimes and tragedies before we affirm our belief in a loving God who is willing to share our pain and suffering and work with in us as we face the world.
Maybe even our Lenten prayer each morning should be something like the following:
It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again
I’ve got to move fast—–get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more.
I just don’t feel like it, Lord. What I really want to do is get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep. All I seem to want today is the big sleep, and here I’ve got to run all over again.
Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. Its not that I need to have you tell me. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot.
So I ‘follow along, okay? But lead, Lord. Now I’ve got to run.
Are you running with me, Jesus? (3)
(1) Frederick Buechner Now and Then, Harper and Row, N.Y., 1983, p 16
(2) John Grogan Bad Dogs Have More Fun, Selective writings on Family, Animals and Life from the Philadelphia Inquirer, Vanguard Press, NY 2007 , Food for Thought on Child Rearing p. 6-9
(3)Malcolm Boyd Are You Running with Me Jesus? Prayers By Malcolm Boyd, Holt, Rhinehart and Winston, N.Y, Chicago , San Francisco, 1965 p.11