A Cord of Three Strands

Cindy and I are about to take an adventure. Those of you who know me well have heard about my many Mt. Mitchell treks, camping for $11 bucks a night at multiple College Baseball World Series in Omaha, or canoeing the New River between North Carolina and Virginia. Cindy has been camping once with me to Mt. Mitchell, once in Omaha, and tomorrow we’re heading to Jefferson, NC and the New River! I pray that it’s enjoyable enough that it’s not a “one and done” experience. I so enjoy us being together, but for this to be a repeat thing we’ve got to have serenity and spontaneity mixed with a little bit of comfort and a lot of companionship. Most important to both of us is companionship with God.

This reminds me of when I was in seminary in Boston when I enrolled in a strange class called “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I thought the class was going to be about the prayer disciplines of the early Desert Christians. I quickly discovered that it was a backpacking course designed to stretch our faith through rock-climbing, rappelling off a 700 foot high cliff, and spending two weeks hiking through the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. We were in five person teams. One person was the orienteer with map and compass. I was the cook carrying a little alcohol burning Svea stove that had to be warmed up by body heat in order to work. We hiked through snow up to our chests in places, and learned how to work as a team helping each other through the constant obstacles.

It was a marvelous course! I do remember, however, how desperate I became during the middle of the trip. Home and Cindy were far enough away from my memory that I was missing her terribly. We were not yet far enough along on the trip to see the light of civilization at the end of the proverbial tunnel. It was a perfect time for what the leaders planned for us. They gave each of us a piece of plastic to act as a ground moisture barrier or as a tarp, and took us along with our personal gear into the deeper darkness of the forest. Each person was alone, no one was within eyesight or earshot, and we had no food. Each of us had enough water to last for three days, and that was it. We weren’t allowed to keep our watches either.

The first day was terrible! I wanted to eat something, anything. I scoured my backpack to see if a single loose M&M might have strayed from the hands that stripped us of all our food. I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t tell the time, but by the looks of the sun, time had stood still. I wanted a Coke, a candy bar, Cindy, a pillow, and hot water. The second morning things began to shift. I had gotten used to the hunger. I dug out my Bible from the backpack and read to pass the time. I started noticing that the sun was moving rhythmically through the sky. The sounds of the forest were poetic in their random yet predictable patterns. It was so soothing! Over the next two days I pulled out another book that I had stashed in my backpack. It was Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s, Life Together. What a wonderful book about Christian fellowship!

Those days alone in the forest while fasting brought clarity of thought to me that I have seldom experienced since. Priorities were in focus, spiritual insight was effortlessly gained, and God seemed closer than my breath. It took the wilderness for me to see that the main thing is the main thing! God is the best meal imaginable – better than any M&M to a guy doing a solo in the dark woods. Snacking off the candy of life isn’t truly satisfying, and the time alone made the fellowship of fellow hikers all the sweeter when we got back together!

Partaking of Jesus, the Bread of Life, is ultimate satisfaction! So Cindy and I will have a tent, and our Therm-a-rest sleeping pads, freeze-dried meals of turkey tetrazzini, beef stroganoff, and granola, plus two backpacking camp chairs,  a Jetboil, the Bible and some books, along with enough fire starter to give us the essentials; but most important beyond each other there will be God. This has been a summer of “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity” for our entire family and the Lord has been with us. Narcie is doing so much better. We all are!

We have learned like Bonhoeffer did. We really need the community of life together, but mostly we need an awareness that God is right here with us, too. Ecclesiastes 4:12 says it well, “A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.” So, here the three of us go – Cindy, me, and Jesus!

New River

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The Goodly Fere and Adventure

In the aftermath of General Conference 2012 I cannot help but reflect on the tendency I see in struggling local churches or denominations that prefer to look back toward the “good old days” rather than to the future. It’s an understandable desire to go back to the Garden of Eden when churches were packed and finances were good. However, if the good old days were that good then why are we in the mess we’re in now? Easter People are supposed to be headed to the New Jerusalem anyway. It’s a risky thought to stake your hope on the future, but looking backwards makes for crooked furrows whether in plowing or being a church.

It’s no accident that God put cherubim with flaming swords to guard the entrance to Eden after Adam and Eve’s exit. If we could have gotten back there after having eaten from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and then get another chance to partake of the Tree of Life, too, then we would be doomed forever to know both good and evil. The Gospel takes us to a better place, a New Jerusalem, where we can live forever in Christ knowing only good. We need to press past halcyon memories of yesteryear, celebrate the good of our history, but keep as our primary objective the risky but Christ-like adventure of the future.

Playing things safe is a natural tendency for most of us. Taking risks has bitten us more often than not. Armchair quarterbacking has been replaced by the safer second-guessing that comes from the sofa. “It’s too dangerous!” is a good thing to say to precocious children, but, if we’re not careful, we may oversell fear to the point that children, or any of us, aren’t given the permission to risk and fail. Risking failure is at the heart of maturity. Wisdom comes from experience, and the only way to get experience is in trying something. General Conference 2012 was a more than a bit deficient in attempting a new thing or anything. So much for making history!

Risk-taking for growth is so counter-intuitive. It goes so much against the grain of our “Be Safe!” society. One of my most frightening experiences was extremely counter-intuitive. I was in a seminary course called, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I should have gathered from the title what I might be in for, but naively I went along hoping for a nice camping trip in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Everything was fine with the hiking. It was cold, but not unbearable. Even as this was in the middle of May, there was chest deep snow as we followed the trail through some of the passes. After a week of hiking and camaraderie we had our first stretching experience. Each of us was given a piece of plastic for a shelter and then led off into the woods where we would be alone for three days. I didn’t know where I was. No one was allowed any food so that we had to fast. I did have a water bottle that was surreptitiously refilled each night by someone I never saw or heard.

The first half day was okay with my mind focused on settling in, setting up my tarp, unrolling my gear, etc. That night was a little scarier. We weren’t allowed flashlights, and it was literally pitch-black. The stars were amazing, but the rustling sounds of wildlife kept me on guard. During the night some animal came barreling through my open-ended shelter. It was probably one of the many tiny chipmunks that inhabited the area, but, in my mind, it sounded like it was the size of a wild boar, something impossible in the Adirondacks.

The next day was spent reading the Bible and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. What was constantly on my mind frankly wasn’t what I was reading. I kept thinking about food and wondering what time it was. The group leaders confiscated my watch before leading me out into the wilderness. The food issue also possessed my thoughts. I tore through my backpack hoping that a stray M&M had escaped from my gorp bag before it had been absconded. There was nothing to be found. That day lasted forever, it seemed. I was frustrated in every way: bored, grumpy, and totally out of sorts.

The next day was more of the same until mid-day, at least my best guess of mid-day. Finally I gave up on hunger. I quit thinking about time. My notions of time and space were pierced by the extreme beauty of nature and God’s own quiet closeness. The sounds and the silence of the forest became relaxing and exhilarating friends. My reading of the Bible and Bonhoeffer was suddenly charged with a clarity that I had never known before. When darkness came I slept with a rare contentment.

Three days of solitude and fasting ended the next morning as I was led back to the group gathering area. All of us were treated to lentil soup and hot tang to reacquaint our stomachs to food. Everyone seemed cleansed, purified, and peaceful. It was great and it was needed. The risk was worth its reward, and it was good preparation for the unforeseen adventures that lay ahead.

I share this in the aftermath of GC 2012 to say that I know we had better days in terms of metrics years ago, but we worship a risen Lord who wants to take us into an uncharted future. It is not an unknown future, however. It ends in the New Jerusalem. Therefore, we need to lay aside our fears and our tight grip on institutional preservation. If Jesus is Lord then the future is where we need to be. We have Jesus with us and He’s no wimp. My favorite poem describes Jesus as a risk-taker better than I. It’s by Ezra Pound and called the “Ballad of the Goodly Fere.” It helps to understand the poem if you know that “fere” is Old English for “friend” or “companion” and the poem’s perspective is from one of Jesus’ original followers:

Ballad of the Goodly Fere

Ha’ we lost the goodliest fere o’ all
For the priests and the gallows tree?
Aye lover he was of brawny men,
O’ ships and the open sea.

When they came wi’ a host to take Our Man
His smile was good to see,
“First let these go!” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Or I’ll see ye damned,” says he.

Aye he sent us out through the crossed high spears
And the scorn of his laugh rang free,
“Why took ye not me when I walked about
Alone in the town?” says he.

Oh we drank his “Hale” in the good red wine
When we last made company,
No capon priest was the Goodly Fere
But a man o’ men was he.

I ha’ seen him drive a hundred men
Wi’ a bundle o’ cords swung free,
That they took the high and holy house
For their pawn and treasury.

They’ll no’ get him a’ in a book I think
Though they write it cunningly;
No mouse of the scrolls was the Goodly Fere
But aye loved the open sea.

If they think they ha’ snared our Goodly Fere
They are fools to the last degree.
“I’ll go to the feast,” quo’ our Goodly Fere,
“Though I go to the gallows tree.”

“Ye ha’ seen me heal the lame and blind,
And wake the dead,” says he,
“Ye shall see one thing to master all:
‘Tis how a brave man dies on the tree.”

A son of God was the Goodly Fere
That bade us his brothers be.
I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men.
I have seen him upon the tree.

He cried no cry when they drave the nails
And the blood gushed hot and free,
The hounds of the crimson sky gave tongue
But never a cry cried he.

I ha’ seen him cow a thousand men
On the hills o’ Galilee,
They whined as he walked out calm between,
Wi’ his eyes like the grey o’ the sea,

Like the sea that brooks no voyaging
With the winds unleashed and free,
Like the sea that he cowed at Genseret
Wi’ twey words spoke’ suddently.

A master of men was the Goodly Fere,
A mate of the wind and sea,
If they think they ha’ slain our Goodly Fere
They are fools eternally.

I ha’ seen him eat o’ the honey-comb
Sin’ they nailed him to the tree.

O Goodly Fere, Thank you for inviting us to be a part of your grand adventure. We will leave behind Eden for the New Jerusalem!

Paterno’s Blind Side

I don’t quite know what to think of the scandal at Penn State and the demise of Coach Paterno’s coaching career. He is 84 years of age and is the winningest coach in football history. One mistake or chain of mistakes did him in. A person can do all the good in the world but a false step, a poor decision, a blind eye and it all ends. In part I sympathize with “JoePa” but a greater concern is for the victims of a pedophile. Joe Paterno had to go. All the good memories in the world cannot erase the negligence that perpetuated the horrible things done under his nose.

Theologically I recall Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after his denial of Christ. I can ponder Jesus’ words of assurance to the thief beside him on the cross who wanted to be remembered in Paradise. Both situations had grace offered, but not without consequences. Peter was told how he would die and the thief was crucified for his crimes. In Bonhoeffer’s words, “There is no cheap grace.”

It makes me all the more dedicated to live a holy life, and I have a long way to go! I have to be diligent in the means of grace; praying, serving, devotional life, Scripture study, and doing whatever it takes to be a friend of God. I have to be a friend to everyone else to be a friend of God.

As I think of Paterno’s situation I am reminded of investing in the lives of the least of these on a consistent basis. Jesus ever sought the best for the least, the lost, the lowest, and the last. On top of a self-helping goal of improving myself I cannot abrogate helping others. The message of the Penn State scandal is to make sure you look out for the vulnerable. Paterno’s personal faith is evident. His investment in his football program is fantastic. His failure came from disregard for those he thought weren’t somehow worth it. A disconnect? Mine, too, sometimes. If my life’s story is to read well then I better be remembered for doing the right things.

Thank God I had a mother and father who excelled in this. Thinking of my Dad, I used to thoroughly enjoy going to auctions with him. My middle brother was usually there, too. Both went to the same auction school in Indiana and were partners. Although livestock auctions were the family’s main emphasis, we also did land and estate auctions.

One of those auctions sticks out in my mind as I think about my life story. I can’t remember the exact estate or town, but I know that it was in Georgia somewhere below Augusta. One of the tasks delegated to me was to go through the dilapidated out-buildings and find anything of value. If anything seemingly worthwhile was found, I told my brother or father and the item went into the sale. The old house was definitely antebellum. The barns and sheds around it were ready to fall in upon themselves. There was old stuff everywhere.

I had frightful visions of snakes and giant rats ready to pounce as I went scavenging through the buildings. There were old chifforobes, combinations of wardrobes and chests of drawers. In this case they were like the family’s safety deposit boxes. I was pretty scared as I began to open them up and pore over their contents. They were like time capsules. There were plenty of pieces of antiquated clothing turning brown or to dust with age.

Then I found the mother lode, the treasure, the things that made me forget about the rats and snakes. There were old pocketbooks. Some were made out of what appeared to be chain-mail. Others looked like real carpet-bags. They might very well have been because one of them had Confederate money in it. There were also a few coins. I plundered the bags with the anticipation of an Indiana Jones. I hurriedly told my brother and Dad what I had discovered.

I spent the rest of the day exploring each building. By the end of the day I felt like I had been privy to the family’s history. I noticed the trunks with the travel decals pasted on the sides indicating where these folks had vacationed. I found hat boxes filled with letters from distant loved ones. One had a son’s letters from overseas during World War II. There were receipt books and ledgers from what must have been an old country store located on the premises. The prices of things were astoundingly low. There were ration books from war years when essential items were doled out. I can remember their green money-like feel.

The official business of life was intermingled with the unofficial business of life. It was as if I was had been allowed entry onto hallowed ground. Everything I saw and touched spoke volumes about life, but also about death. Estate sales usually occur when there’s been a death. They suggest a sense of finality, a realization that life on earth ends, and you can’t take anything with you. In many ways that day in those barns and buildings I came of age. The lesson learned: A seven-by-four feet chifforobe can speak volumes about what we valued, but it’s only a whisper compared to the legacy of our lives themselves.

In our he/she-who-dies-with-the-most-toys-wins world, perhaps we should dare to leave our most treasured possessions in other people. Everything else deteriorates or gets sold. Heaven is the ultimate chifforobe, the very best safety deposit box. Let’s prove our faith by making memories in people. Joe Paterno will not be remembered for his tenacity at Penn State but in letting down a bunch of young victims. I pray for better. Our values will be revealed, exposed, celebrated, or berated. In the words of Rev. R.G. Lee, “There’s going to be a payday someday.” God help us all.

Easter Freedom

Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been one of my heroes in the faith for years. His book Life Together was one of the most formative spiritual sources in my early Christian life. In it he describes Christian community with unbridled passion. He knew first-hand the value of support and fellowship. He was a member of the underground “Confessing” church in Germany during Hitler’s tyranny. He taught in an illegal seminary training pastors to withstand the onslaught of fascism. Sixty-four years ago this month on April 9, 1945 he was led away by Gestapo guards to be hung. His last words to a fellow prisoner were, “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.” What an Easter message. Bonhoeffer was only 39 years old when he was executed.

Pope John Paul II barely escaped a similar fate when he was a seminarian in Poland. The Nazis did finally arrest the future Pope and he endured a labor camp until he was liberated. Liberation theology espouses a Christus Victor image of Christ’s atonement and resurrection. This image calls us to see Jesus as Liberator, victorious over sin and death. Christians have embraced the notion of Christ as Victor throughout the centuries, especially those who have been oppressed.

No offense, that means all of us. Certainly there are millions of Christians who have had and are enduring struggles the likes of which are beyond my comprehension, but the truth that we all know is that all of us are in a great battle between the forces of good and evil. We may not bear on our bodies the marks and scars of persecution, but we all have concerns over which we need Jesus to triumph.

It would do us well to remember Bonhoeffer and John Paul II as people who threw off the yoke of oppression and died well and entered the freedom of heaven. Bonhoeffer said it for the Pope and for us when we face death’s barrage, “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.” Christ as Victor reminds me of the end of the Mel Gibson movie, Braveheart. William Wallace, the Scotsman liberator who finally yields his life as a martyr to English oppression, cries out, “FREEDOM!”

However, just as much as I look forward to a heavenly victory, I am reminded, even scolded, by God that God wants liberation to occur in the here and now as much as in the hereafter. The sweet-by-and-by sounds great but if we don’t do something about humanity’s problems that are staring us in the face then we mock the Lord and His prayer: “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”

Bonhoeffer was jailed by the Nazis because he took liberation theology seriously enough to take part in the July 20, 1944 Abwehr plot against Hitler. The one question that informed Bonhoeffer’s ethics was, “Who is Jesus Christ?” How one answers that question was decisive for Bonhoeffer and so it should be for us. When we face the world’s ills and injustices, we have to make a stand in the power of Christ.

We are the hands and feet of Jesus, the mouthpieces and the ears. When Bonhoeffer was addressing the question of Christ’s identity the church in Germany was confronted with Nazism’s deliberate systematic annihilation of Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, mentally disabled people and nearly everyone else who didn’t fit into Aryan culture. Most Christians in Germany went along with Hitler’s policies because they didn’t ask Bonhoeffer’s question. How can we answer freedom’s call today? Answer the question: “Who is Jesus Christ?” and we will live Easter Freedom.

Leap of Faith

>Playing things safe is a natural tendency for many people. Taking risks has bitten us more often than not. Armchair quarterbacking has been replaced by the safer second-guessing that comes from the sofa. “It’s too dangerous!” is a good thing to say to precocious children, but, if we’re not careful, we may oversell fear to the point that children, or any of us, aren’t given the permission to risk and fail. Risking failure is at the heart of maturity. Wisdom comes from experience, and the only way to get experience is to try something.

Risk-taking for growth is so counter-intuitive. It goes so much against the grain of our “Be Safe!” society. One of the most frightening experiences to me was extremely counter-intuitive. I was in a seminary course called, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I should have gathered from the title what I might be in for, but naively I went along hoping for a nice camping trip in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.
 
Everything was fine with the hiking. It was cold, but not unbearable. Even as this was in the middle of May, there was chest deep snow along the trail through some of the passes. After a week of hiking and camaraderie we had our first stretching experience. Each of us was given a piece of plastic for a tarp and then led off into the woods where we would be alone for three days. I didn’t know where I was. No one was allowed any food so that we had to fast. I did have a water bottle that was surreptitiously refilled each night by someone I never saw or heard.
 
The first half day was okay with my mind focused on settling in, setting up my tarp, unrolling my gear, etc. That night was a little scarier. We weren’t allowed flashlights, and it was literally pitch-black. The stars were amazing, but the rustling sounds of wildlife kept me on guard. During the night some animal came barreling through my open-ended shelter. It was probably one of the many tiny chipmunks that inhabited the area, but, in my mind, it sounded like it was the size of a wild boar, an impossibility in the Adirondacks.
 
The next day was spent reading the Bible and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. What was constantly on my mind frankly wasn’t what I was reading. I kept thinking about food and wondering what time it was. The group leaders confiscated my watch before leading me out into the wilderness. The food issue also possessed my thoughts. I tore through my backpack hoping that a stray M&M had escaped from my gorp bag before it had been absconded. There was nothing to be found. That day lasted forever, it seemed. I was frustrated in every way: bored, grumpy, and totally out of sorts.
 
The next day was more of the same until mid-day, at least my best guess of mid-day. Finally I gave up on hunger. I quit thinking about time. Nature and God finally pierced my notions of time and space with the extreme beauty of nature and God’s own quiet closeness. The sounds and the silence of the forest became relaxing and exhilarating friends. My reading of the Bible and Bonhoeffer was suddenly charged with a clarity that I had never known before. When darkness came I slept with a contentment that was rare.
 
Three days of solitude and fasting ended the next morning as I was led back to the group gathering area. All of us were treated to lentil soup and hot tang to reaccustom our stomachs to food. Everyone seemed cleansed, purified, and peaceful. It was great and it was needed. The risk was worth its reward, and it was good preparation for what came next, rappelling down Mt. Jo.

Trust and Obey

Storm clouds are rolling in. These are scary times with the dips and plummets of the stock market. I’ve been having consultations with pastors. I am sad to admit that fear has replaced expectancy in many. Who wants to ponder retiring next year if a person’s pension fund is in the tank? Who wants to move to a new parish when they’ve just figured out who the snakes are in the parish they’re in? Issues about children, school, spouse’s employment, and parents’ illnesses abound. We want to play it safe in an itinerant adventure.

Playing things safe is a natural tendency for many people. Taking risks has bitten us more often than not. Armchair quarterbacking has been replaced by the safer second-guessing that comes from the sofa. “It’s too dangerous!” is a good thing to say to precocious children, but, if we’re not careful, we may oversell fear to the point that children, or any of us, aren’t given the permission to risk and fail. Risking failure is at the heart of maturity. Wisdom comes from experience, and the only way to get experience is to try something.
 
Risk-taking for growth is so counter-intuitive. It goes so much against the grain of our “Be Safe!” society. One of the most frightening experiences to me was extremely counter-intuitive. I was in a seminary course called, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” I should have gathered from the title what I might be in for, but naively I went along hoping for a nice camping trip in upstate New York’s Adirondack Mountains.

Everything was fine with the hiking. It was cold, but not unbearable. Even as this was in the middle of May, there was chest deep snow along the trail through some of the passes. After a week of hiking and camaraderie we had our first stretching experience. Each of us was given a piece of plastic for a tarp and then led off into the woods where we would be alone for three days. I didn’t know where I was. No one was allowed any food so that we had to fast. I did have a water bottle that was surreptitiously refilled each night by someone I never saw or heard.
The first half day was okay with my mind focused on settling in, setting up my tarp, unrolling my gear, etc. That night was a little scarier. We weren’t allowed flashlights, and it was literally pitch-black. The stars were amazing, but the rustling sounds of wildlife kept me on guard. During the night some animal came barreling through my open-ended shelter. It was probably one of the many tiny chipmunks that inhabited the area, but, in my mind, it sounded like it was the size of a wild boar, an impossibility in the Adirondacks.

The next day was spent reading the Bible and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s little book, Life Together. What was constantly on my mind frankly wasn’t what I was reading. I kept thinking about food and wondering what time it was. The group leaders confiscated my watch before leading me out into the wilderness. The food issue also possessed my thoughts. I tore through my backpack hoping that a stray M&M had escaped from my gorp bag before it had been absconded. There was nothing to be found. That day lasted forever, it seemed. I was frustrated in every way: bored, grumpy, and totally out of sorts.

The next day was more of the same until mid-day, at least my best guess of mid-day. Finally I gave up on hunger. I quit thinking about time. Nature and God finally pierced my notions of time and space with the extreme beauty of nature and God’s own quiet closeness. The sounds and the silence of the forest became relaxing and exhilarating friends. My reading of the Bible and Bonhoeffer was suddenly charged with a clarity that I had never known before. When darkness came I slept with a contentment that was rare.

Three days of solitude and fasting ended the next morning as I was led back to the group gathering area. All of us were treated to lentil soup and hot tang to reaccustom our stomachs to food. Everyone seemed cleansed, purified, and peaceful. It was great and it was needed. The risk was worth its reward, and it was good preparation for what came next – rappelling down a 1000-foot cliff. Such is life with a wild God leading us, the solitude on the mountain to the valley of overwhelming need. There is no playing it safe.

Longing for Mitch

One of the most interesting courses that I took in seminary while in Boston was entitled, “Wilderness Experience for Christian Maturity.” We spent an entire semester learning compass orienteering, team building, and rock climbing skills. This was done to prepare us for two weeks of hiking in the Adirondacks of upstate New York. We hiked through snowdrifts as best we could and trudged through mud after that. We carried all of our food, rappelled down Mt. Jo, and did three-day solos isolated from each other.
 
We learned a lot about Christian community, but we also discovered much about ourselves. I know first-hand about the fear of trusting a climbing harness when going over the edge of a cliff. I also found out the number of days that I could go without food, and I got closer to God as I read the Scriptures and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together­.
 
An amazing discovery occurred when we returned to the trailhead. It was my first chance to see myself in a mirror. I almost didn’t recognize myself. With a full beard and noticeable weight loss especially in my voluminous face, I had to take a second look. Who was this lumberjack-looking creature? How had my wilderness experience changed me? Had I grown in Christian maturity?
 
The entire course was about discovering God by understanding oneself. Identity was at the core of everything we did. It took an opportunity like this course to make me take the time to ponder my identity as a person and as a Christian. When you know who you are, you don’t have to impress anyone. When Jesus was taken before the high priest, who asked, “What do you have to say for yourself?” Jesus was silent. Wrong question. When the high priest then asked Him if He was the Son of God, Jesus said, “I am.” Right question. Before Pilate, who asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “Yes, it is as you say.” Right question. In the Luke account, Herod asked Jesus question after question, but there was no reply. Wrong questions.
 
When you have discovered your identity, you need to say little else. This all begs the question for me to answer: Who am I in Christ? What is my identity? With all that has taken place this summer it is important for me to find the real “me” in Christ. You know where I do most of that kind of pondering, Mt. Mitchell. As naturalist John Muir put it, “The mountains are calling, and I must go.” Well, I won’t make it any time soon due to the district set-up meeting, and catching up of every kind around the office, but I can go in my spirit and through quiet time.
 
This all reminds me of the story I heard of a woman who got on an elevator in a tall office building. There was just one other person in the elevator, a handsome man. She pushed the button for her floor and then casually looked over at the man and suddenly had one of those moments of recognition shock. Could it be? The man looked exactly like Robert Redford, the movie star. Her gaze was almost involuntarily riveted on him. Finally, she blurted out, “Are you the real Robert Redford?” He smiled and said, “Only when I’m alone.”
Who are we when we’re alone?