Memorials that Last

I know that Article 16 of our Confession of Faith says that we deplore war but with Memorial Day Weekend upon us I can’t help but think about the sacrifice paid by so few for so many during World War II. I think of this particular war because I agree with Tom Brokaw that this was America’s “Greatest Generation.” Brave soldiers with their families back home, and persons in support industries mobilized an unsurpassed effort to defeat fascism and tyranny. We say, “Thank you,” to all from every conflict that have acted on behalf of our freedom.

I remember a church member in my first parish who was in the Battle of the Bulge during WWII as a tank gunner. His name was Elbert MacDougald. He carried with him the physical and emotional scars of being caught in that tank as it took round after round of small arms fire while it was stranded. He said he could still hear the plinking sounds hour after hour until relief arrived. The tank’s tracks had been immobilized. Its turret and cannon could only fire in one direction. I remember the horror on his face as he recounted his story. In one attempt to fire at the attackers, the tank’s cannon was loaded, but in the process of loading the shell, Elbert’s hand was caught between the seal and the rifled tube holding the round. The only way to be set free was for him to fire the gun. When he did it, half of his hand was obliterated in the recoil.

With every news from Iraq or Afghanistan of brave soldiers losing limbs, I think about Elbert and others like him that have given so much, regardless of the politics of war and our theology against it, to make us free. Memorial Day is a small token of our appreciation. We’ve turned it into a day at the lake or a barbecue. To so many it’s the only thanks they get.

Being a disciple of Christ demands no less a sacrifice. Christian martyr’s dying bravely for the faith turned the Roman Empire upside down. Discipleship isn’t for the fainthearted. It takes bravery, devotion, and decisive action to do God’s will in a hostile environment. Cheap talk of being loyal to Christ isn’t adequate. Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Open Hand, prayed, “God, give me the courage to be revolutionary as your Son Jesus Christ was. Give me the courage to loosen myself from this world. Teach me to stand up free and to shun no criticism. God, it is for your kingdom. Make me free, make me poor in this world; then I will be rich in the real world, which this life is all about. God, thank you for the vision of the future, but make it fact and not just theory.”

What a prayer! Christianity needs more practitioners, not theorists. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline there is a list of what are called “chargeable offenses” for clergypersons and laypersons. The list includes such things as immorality and crime as grounds for dismissal or trial. In the 1996 AME Zion Book of Discipline, there is a glaring typographical error. In the section on “Chargeable Offenses,” the first numbered chargeable offense of clergy is this: “Immortal Conduct.” Can you think of a better “chargeable offense?” When is the last time someone could have charged you with this offense?

On this Memorial Day, let’s give thanks for the immortal conduct of people throughout the centuries that have preserved our faith and our freedom.

United Methodists & Great Expectations

With so many of our WWII vets dying every day and remembering well the HBO Series “Band of Brothers” and their travails during the winter of 1944 in the Battle of the Bulge, I can’t help but think about the sacrifice paid by so few for so many. Brave soldiers with their families back home, and persons in support industries mobilized an unsurpassed effort to defeat fascism and tyranny. We can’t say, “Thank you,” enough to all from every conflict that have acted on behalf of our freedom.

I remember a church member in a previous church who was in the Battle of the Bulge as a tank gunner. His name was Elbert MacDougald. He carried with him the physical and emotional scars of being caught in that tank as it took round after round of small arms fire while it was stranded. He said he could still hear the plinking sounds hour after hour until relief arrived. The tank’s tracks had been immobilized. Its turret and cannon could only fire in one direction. I remember the horror on his face as he recounted his story. In one attempt to fire at the attackers, the tank’s cannon was loaded, but in the process of loading the shell, Elbert’s hand was caught between the seal and the rifled tube holding the round. The only way to be set free was for him to fire the gun. When he did it, half of his hand was obliterated in the recoil.

With every bit of news from Iraq and Afghanistan about brave soldiers losing limbs, I think about Elbert and others like him that have given so much, regardless of the politics of war and our theology against it, to make us free. I listened to president Obama’s speech with keen ears. I hope another surge works and we root out the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, plus make his overly optimistic timetable. It will take great sacrifice by the families of our service personnel and the entire country.

Being a disciple of Christ demands no less a sacrifice. Christian martyr’s dying bravely for the faith turned the Roman Empire upside down. Discipleship isn’t for the fainthearted. It takes bravery, devotion, and decisive action to do God’s will in a hostile environment. Cheap talk of being loyal to Christ isn’t adequate. Henri Nouwen, in his book, With Open Hand, prayed, “God, give me the courage to be revolutionary as your Son Jesus Christ was. Give me the courage to loosen myself from this world. Teach me to stand up free and to shun no criticism. God, it is for your kingdom. Make me free, make me poor in this world; then I will be rich in the real world, which this life is all about. God, thank you for the vision of the future, but make it fact and not just theory.”

What a prayer! Christianity needs more practitioners, not theorists. In the United Methodist Book of Discipline there is a list of what are called “chargeable offenses” for clergypersons and laypersons. The list includes such things as immorality and crime as grounds for dismissal or trial. In the 1996 AME Zion Book of Discipline, there is a glaring typographical error. In the section on “Chargeable Offenses,” the first numbered chargeable offense of clergy is this: “Immortal Conduct.” Can you think of a better “chargeable offense?” When is the last time someone could have charged you with this offense? That’s a question I’m thinking about today. With all of the hoopla over Tiger Woods’ indiscretion and auto accident, I’m afraid that we have become a country that has double standards. We expect our military to be excellent and our celebrities to be less than mediocre. I think a good dose of Jesus will straighten us all out!

Winter Storm Warning

I just checked Mt. Mitchell’s weather station and saw that yesterday the high was 18 and the low this morning was 14, with a -9 factoring in the windchill. Tough conditions! We had our first frost this morning. Winter is soon upon us. As I have been holding charge conferences day-in-day-out, I can tell you that there are marvelous ministries, but there is also a systemic anxiety in the air. The economic fallout has caused sincere people of faith to wonder about their future. My thinking is that we’re in a time like the Great Depression and WWII that produced the “Builder” generation and what Tom Brokaw called “The Greatest Generation.” As I ponder this coming All Saints Day, I think about my father who quit school in the 8th grade to help his family survive. He was 13 at the time the Stock Market crashed. He subsequently joined the CCC’s (Civilian Conservation Corps), married my Mom, survived the War years and became a successful businessman and a superb Christian.
 
Churches were filled as people’s extrinsic idols disappeared. Maybe we’re on the cusp of another such time, and a time of great revival. I recently was given a October 2008 prayer by Max Lucado, “You Have Our Attention, Lord” that puts all of this in perspective:
 
“Our friends lost their house
The co-worker lost her job
The couple next door lost their retirement
It seems that everyone is losing their footing
 
This scares us. This bailout with billions.
These rumblings of depression.
These headlines: ominous, thunderous –
“Going broke!” “Going Down!” “Going Under!” “What Next?”
What is next?
 
We’re listening. And we’re admitting: You were right.
You told us this would happen.
You shot straight about loving stuff and worshipping money.
Greed will break your heart, you warned.
Money will love you and leave you.
Don’t put your hope in riches that are so uncertain.
 
You were right. Money is a fickle lover and we just got dumped.
We were wrong to spend what we didn’t have,
Wrong to neglect prayer and ignore the poor,
Wrong to think we ever earned a dime. We didn’t. You gave it.
And now, tell us Father, are you taking it?
We’re listening. And we’re praying.
Could you make something good out of this mess?
Of course you can. You always have.
You led slaves out of slavery,
Built temples out of ruins,
Turned stormy waves into a glassy pond and water into sweet wine.
This disorder awaits your order. So do we.”
Amen.