All posts by Rod White

John Wesley — March 2

Surrounded by the mob in Wednesbury, England

Bible connection

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. — Read Ephesians 2:1-10

All about John Wesley (1703-1791)

John Wesley lived for most of the 18th century . He was the world-famous founder of Methodism which is alive and well in many forms all over Creation right now.

John and his brother, Charles, were twentysomethings when they began to meet as the “Holy Club” they founded at Oxford. They read spiritual classics and tried to apply what they read to their lives and encourage one another. It sounds a lot like a cell meeting.

In 1735 John and Charles went on a missionary trip to the colony of Georgia. John returned very discouraged that he couldn’t translate his ideas about God in effective ways for the people of the colony (plus, he fell in love with a local woman and the relationship did not work out very well).

In this period of discouragement, he became friends with a Moravian preacher, Peter Boehler. At a small religious meeting connected to the Moravians in Aldersgate Street, London, on May 24, 1738, John had an experience with God that changed his life. He famously described this experience as having his heart “strangely warmed.” This personal encounter with God prompted John to spend the rest of his life energetically encouraging others to meet God personally. This encounter with God seems to have caused his faith to move from mostly his head to his heart; it activated a deep dependence on God’s grace and a whole new way of living that he then shared with thousands of people.

Wesley’s faith was devoted to social justice as well as preaching. It is hard to overestimate how large a transforming force the Methodists were in England and the United States in the 17 and 1800s. They can be congratulated for being instrumental in the abolition of slavery by England, as well as in uplifting the poor in countless ways.

Notable quotes from Wesley:

  • Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.
  • Earn all you can, give all you can, save all you can.
  • “Holy solitaries” is a phrase no more consistent with the Gospel than holy adulterers. The Gospel of Christ knows no religion but social; no holiness, but social holiness.
  • Every one, though born of God in an instant, yet undoubtedly grows by slow degrees.
  • When I was young I was sure of everything. In a few years, having been mistaken a thousand times, I was not half so sure of most things as I was before. At present, I am hardly sure of anything but what God has revealed to me.
  • Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences.
  • Catch on fire and people will come for miles to see you burn.
  • God does nothing except in response to believing prayer.
  • Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergymen or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon Earth.
  • As for reputation, though it be a glorious instrument of advancing our Master’s service, yet there is a better than that: a clean heart, a single eye, and a soul full of God. A fair exchange if, by the loss of reputation, we can purchase the lowest degree of purity of heart.
  • Our church did some theology about being radical in 2016 and John Wesley was the example. Check out this material that relates: Radical Energy at 3000 Feet, and Are We Visible Enough?

More

Article from Christian History magazine [link]

2009 film Wesley includes June Lockhart, playing his mother Susannah. There are quite a few films to watch: John Wesley: The faith that Sparked the Methodist Movement (2020 documentary using scenes from 2009 film) and one from 1954 John Wesley.

Interesting look at Methodist history in England [link]

Wesley’s books were best sellers. As he got richer, he got more generous, as the following story about his financial discipline shows.

While at Oxford, an incident changed Wesley’s perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. Immediately the thought struck him that the Lord was not pleased with the way he had spent his money. He asked himself, “Will thy Master say, ‘Well done, good and faithful steward?’ Thou hast adorned thy walls with the money which might have screened this poor creature from the cold! O justice! O mercy! Are not these pictures the blood of this poor maid?”

Perhaps as a result of this incident, in 1731 Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds. Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. Even when his income rose into the thousands of pounds sterling, he lived simply, and he quickly gave away his surplus money. One year his income was a little over 1400 pounds. He lived on 30 pounds and gave away nearly 1400 pounds.

Favorite works about Wesley:

What do we do with this?

John Wesley caused enormous change in the lives of individuals and in both England and the United States by giving people practical ways to live out radical faith. Many churches today reflect his methods. Do you connect with others to be a force for change, or do you kind of do your own thing? That would be one of his questions for you. [Wesley’s 22 Questions]

Ask God to move you from your head to heart—or just anywhere.

John Cassian – February 28

John Cassian

Bible connection

Read 2 Corinthians 6:17-7:3

Therefore, “Come out from them
and be separate,
says the Lord.
Touch no unclean thing,
and I will receive you.”

And, “I will be a Father to you,
and you will be my sons and daughters,
says the Lord Almighty.”

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

All about John Cassian (c. 360-c.435)

John Cassian taught: “God can be sensed when we gaze with trembling hearts at that power of his which controls, guides, and rules everything, when we contemplate his immense knowledge and his knowing look which the secrets of the heart cannot evade.”

His writings reflect his adventurous, radical, ever-seeking life. He was born in the Danube Delta in what is now Dobrogea, Romania, in about 360 (some sources place his birth in Gaul/Southern France). In 382 he entered a monastery in Bethlehem and after several years was granted permission, along with his friend, Germanus, to visit the Desert Fathers and Mothers in Egypt. They remained in Egypt until 399, except for a brief period when they returned to Bethlehem and were released from their vows.

After they left Egypt they went to Constantinople, where they met John Chrysostom, who ordained John Cassian as a deacon. He had to leave Constantinople in 403 when Chrysostom was exiled, eventually settling close to what is now Marseilles, France, where he was ordained a priest and founded two monasteries, one for women and one for men.

John’s most notable works are the Institutes, which detail how to live the monastic life, Egypt-style, and the Conferences, which provide details of conversations between John and Germanus and the Desert Fathers and Mothers. These writings have been very  influential from his lifetime until the present.

Cassian also waded into the big controversies of his day. He ably warned against some of the excesses in Augustine of Hippo’s theology when Augustine defamed Pelagius, whose writings Cassian also found extreme, in parts. He also defended the nature of Christ against Nestorius. John Cassian died peacefully in about 435.

John Cassian, like many during his time, was seeking to deepen his relationship with God and to escape a corrupting culture. He tried to balance the tension between pursuing an individual purity, loving God in solitude where distractions were limited, as the Desert Fathers and Mothers taught him, with living in a community with like-minded companions who could guide one’s journey. His life is a testament to seeking holiness individually and to loving God and others in community.

A quote from Conference Nine:

We need to be especially careful to follow the gospel precept which instructs us to go into our room and to shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we can do it.

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord.

We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but who looks hard at our hearts.

We pray in secret when in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits we address God and reveal our wishes only to Him and in such a way that the hostile powers themselves have no inkling of their nature. Hence we must pray in utter silence, not simply in order that our whispers and our cries do not prove both a distraction to our brothers standing nearby and a nuisance to them when they themselves are praying but also so as to ensure that the thrust of our pleading be hidden from our enemies who are especially lying in wait to attack us during our prayers. In this way we shall fulfill the command “Keep your mouth shut from the one who sleeps on your breast” (Micah 7:5).

The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out. There lies true sacrifice. “The sacrifice which God wants is a contrite heart” (Ps 51:19). This indeed is the saving oblation, the pure offering, the sacrifice of justification, the sacrifice of praise. These are the real and rich thank offerings, the fat holocausts [a sacrifice in which the offering was burned completely on an altar] offered up by contrite and humble hearts. If we offer them to God in the way and with zeal which I have mentioned we can be sure to be heard and we can sing: “Let my prayer rise up like incense before your face and my hands like the evening offering” (Ps 141:2).

More

Hit all the tabs on this site and you will know eveything [link]

Cassian’s tomb in Marseille [link]

What do we do with this?

John is such a scholar! Let’s think about our own study. What would you do with Micah 7:5? John reads it in a contemplative way, using it to speak into his personal relationship with God. He sees all the Bible as a means to that end. You might say, he starts his reading from his relationship with God, not from the words of the Bible.

In fact (as 21st century people see fact) Micah’s colorful analogy has little to do with relating to God or the devil, the  prophet is talking about not being able to trust your intimates when trouble comes.  John Cassian goes beyond the “facts.”

Do you want to think about what you are doing with these different ways to look at the same sentences? You could start with the prophet, start with yourself, or start with God, or even think of the words as having meaning in themselvesall might be profitable. How do you start your study of the Bible?

John changed his life when he met the Desert Fathers and Mothers, and he had to go to great lengths to meet them! When was the last time you went to meet someone who could inspire or guide you? When did you last go to “the desert?”

Fred Rogers — February 27

Fred Rogers

Bible connection

We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ. 2 Corinthians 10:5

All about Fred Rogers (1928-2003)

Fred Rogers, television pioneer and gentle subversive for Jesus, was born in 1928 in Latrobe, PA. He went to a local high school and studied piano at Dartmuth and Rollins College (Florida), graduating in 1951. While taking a break from college to visit his parents, he saw their newest favorite gadget: the television. He had mixed feelings about the programming, but he was inspired to use the powerful medium for something wonderful.

Rogers married Sara Byrd in 1952; they had two sons. He got one of his first jobs working at a local Pittsburgh community television station, WQED. He became one of the pioneers in the field as part of a team who improvised the Children’s Corneralso serving as puppeteer. While developing meaningful content for kids, Rogers also finished his Masters of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. After he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church USA in 1963, the church charged him to create quality children’s programming.

He moved to Toronto in 1963 to play Mister Rogers in a show for the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation). Here he further developed several characters and songs that would become famous. That 15-minute program was called Misterogers. In 1966, he acquired the rights to various elements of the show and moved back to Pittsburgh to work with WQED. He began Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, for which he wrote most of the scripts, the music, played several of the characters. In 1968, PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) began broadcasting Mister Rogers Neighborhood all across the country. Rogers hosted the program until 2000.

During its run of daily episodes, Rogers hardly embellished his offscreen personality (besides the puppets, of course) because he thought authenticity was a gift to kids. He did not endorse any products and only served as a spokesperson for a few non-profits dealing with education. He visited children in the Pittsburgh hospitals regularly and volunteered inside a state prison. When PBS’ funding was under fire by a Senate Committee in 1969, Rogers gave a key testimony that saved the network.

The show was very simple and did not include fast-paced action or over-stimulating animations, which Rogers called “bombardment.” Wearing the famous zip-up cardigans knitted by his mother, Mister Rogers talked directly to his audience imaginatively and engagingly. He “took them” on field trips to see how crayons were made and explored themes of being afraid, going to school, how good it feels to be able to control your temper, teaching kids that they have worth and to love themselves and others. He brought in various guests including several recurring characters. In each episode a trolley would come into his living room and take the audience to the land of make believe. His opening and closing songs, as well as the changing of jackets to sweaters and shoes to sneakers helped us all feel like he actually was our neighbor.

Rogers won 4 Emmysplus a Daytime Emmy lifetime achievement award. The acceptance speech for the lifetime achievement (given mostly to talkshow hosts & soap opera stars) became famous, as he used 10 seconds of silence for the crowd and the viewers to think about the people who loved them into being who they are [link]. Rogers was given numerous other honors over the years including the Presidential Medal of Freedom (@ 21:22) and was inducted into the Television Hall of Fame (great speech).

Rogers was known and admired for his calm and quirky personality and a devoted faith. He was known to swim every day, ate a vegetarian diet, and was red-green colorblind. Shortly after the last shows aired in 2001, Fred Rogers was diagnosed with stomach cancer. The operations were not successful, and he died at home surrounded by his wife and family on this day in 2003, just before he turned 75.

More

FredRogers.org [link]

Obituary [link]

Tom Hanks talks about playing the icon Rogers has become [Today Show]

What do we do with this?

Fred Rogers gently infiltrated the most powerful means of communication of his time and used it to relentlessly advance his example of love and his background message: the teachings of Jesus. He even took the thoughts of the Senate and the Emmy Awards presentation “captive.” The scripture for today calls us to be so clever and so bold. How do you see your role in your environment? Chances there are arguments and opinions raised against the revelation of God in Jesus. What is your strategy for getting the love and truth of Jesus into the mix? Pray about that.

Xi Shengmo — February 19

Xi Shengmo

Bible connection

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. — Romans 8:38

All about Xi Shengmo (Pastor Xi, 1836-1896)

The Confucian scholar Xi Zizhi became a Jesus follower after a failed attempt to pass the provincial level exams in Taiyuan, Shanxi. As he exited the examination hall, he received several gospel tracts as well as an invitation to contribute to a collection of essays on general moral and religious topics. This process was devised by British missionaries, Timothy Richard and David Hill, as a means of opening up gospel discussions with Chinese elites. Xi submitted several winning entries in the essay competition. When he visited the missionaries to collect his prize, he was asked by Hill to serve as his secretary and Chinese language tutor. Xi accepted and his new foreign friend soon helped him overcome his opium habit.

Cambridge Seven

Xi became a Christian, changed his name to Xi Shengmo (“Xi, the overcomer of demons”), and returned to his hometown to convert his traditional Chinese medical dispensary into a church and opium refuge for others seeking to overcome their addictions. He was the first indigenous pastor in Shanxi province, immortalized in Geraldine Taylor’s biographyPastor Hsi: Confucian Scholar and Christian. Xi was fiery, and while he did at times get into conflict with foreign missionaries, a long string of China Inland Mission (CIM now OMF) missionaries (including many of the famous Cambridge Seven) served effectively under his direction. His opium refuge played an important role in the early development of the indigenous Protestant church in Shanxi.

Xi Shengmo also wrote numerous Chinese Christian hymns, which were considered more to the liking of the local people than the hymns introduced by the missionaries. But perhaps the most notable thing about him was the way in which he led the Christian missionary work in his area. The general pattern was for Western Christians to enter an area, raise up churches and then train local people as pastors and evangelists. Xi Shengmo took hold of the work with such skill and energy that the missionaries stood aside, to a considerable extent, as he established clinics and churches.

One of the towns where he worked was Hwochow (modern Huaxian) in Shansi. After his tenure, Mildred CableEvangeline and Francesca French worked there as missionaries for 21 years until they left in 1923. “The ramifications of the Church under the direction of the Chinese Pastorate, in immediate succession to the foundation as laid by Pastor Hsi … were the joy and gratification of the whole community.” (Through Jade Gate and Central Asia; by M. Cable & F. French, p. 16).

Quote

At this time I still smoked opium. I tried to break it off by means of native medicine, but could not; by use of foreign medicine, but failed. At last I saw, in reading the New Testament, that there was a Holy Spirit who could help men. I prayed to God to give me His Holy Spirit. He did what man and medicine could not do; He enabled me to break off opium smoking. So, my friends, if you would break off opium, don’t rely on medicine, don’t lean on man, but trust to God. —Transcribed oral testimony of Xi Shengmo from Days of Blessing in Inland China.

More

Entry from the Biographical Dictionary of Chinese Christianity

What do we do with this?

From failure and addiction, Xi was called to make a big difference. He even overcame the “foreign devils” and exercised his own authority. He says it is all because he trusted Jesus. Does his example move you to get beyond something in yourself and get into the mission of Christ in the world in some expanded way?

Valentine — February 14

Bible connection

 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. — 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (RSV)

All about Valentine (c. 226-269)

The exact history of Valentine is murky. What we do seem to know is that in the 3rd century the emperor Claudius II of Rome outlawed marriage for certain young men because married men were reluctant to leave their wives and go to war.

Valentine continued to marry couples in secret. When the emperor found out, he attempted to convert Valentine to believe in the Roman gods. Valentine refused and attempted to convert the emperor to Christianity. Claudius II responded by sentencing Valentine to death.

While in prison, the story goes, the jailer’s blind daughter visited Valentine. By a miracle, Valentine cured the jailer’s daughter and she was able to see.

Therefore, Valentine’s day is more about resistance, martyrdom, and sacrifice than romantic love. However, his saints day falls around the time that love birds traditionally mate in England, so he became associated with romance.

More

Check out the History Channel: [link]

Rod’s tributes to St. Valentine:

  • A poem about his obscure but courageous-sounding history [link]
  • Making a connection with poor Whitney Houston [link]

From the Roman Catholics:

What do we do with this?

Talk to your mate about martyrdom. Can your relationship bear the trials of faith? Do you hang on more tightly to one another than to Jesus?

Consider how you face the challenges the godless government tries to impose on you. Do you go along with its philosophy of economics and power?

I think Valentine would love it if you celebrated your love with your mate or special someone. Love is better than war. You might say Valentine died for love. His love gave sight to the blind and keeps giving a reason to see love in the eyes of another.

Ash Wednesday, first day of Lent — February 14, 2024

Bible connection

Read Isaiah 58

Isn’t this the fast I choose:
releasing wicked restraints, untying the ropes of a yoke,
setting free the mistreated,
and breaking every yoke?

All about Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the deep season of Lent. If you attend an  observance, you will probably be given an opportunity to take the sign of the cross on your forehead with ashes collected by burning last year’s Palm Sunday palms.

The symbol is meant to remind us of our need for repentance, the need to turn and go in a new direction. We make the ashes out of the palms we used last Palm Sunday — the palms that symbolized our hope in Jesus being a triumphant king. As ashes, they remind us that we often get things wrong and we often need to turn around, to repent and concentrate our attention on how to depend on God in our lives more actively.

Like the people in Jerusalem who greeted Jesus during his final entry into the city, we all want Jesus to be a visible, easy-to-know-and-follow king who is always the winner, always leading a joyous parade. But as we all know, that parade from last Palm Sundayas is true with every Palm Sunday parade, leads not to our easy discipleship, but instead to the cross, where something far deeper than our desire to win is won for us.

We can’t live lives marked by Jesus and stay on the surface of things, following rules, trying to appear right and be good. Jesus told the Pharisees those aspirations were just not a viable option. He said such an ambition would be a delusion because our hearts are the problem. We need something new to happen at the depths of us. Jesus is calling for a new way of being altogether. We must go to the heart of things and to the heart of ourselves, turn away from our ideas of what’s best and turn to the Living God. That pursuit makes Lent one of the wonders of the year.

More 

A word from Rod for those who feel too bad to be involved in Lent: [link]

Ash Wednesday by T.S. Eliot

Some Catholic teaching on Lent for beginners.

Renovare books for Lent.

A minute and a half from the Anglicans on Ash Wednesday.

A Lutheran pastor tries to make sense of it for the kids:

What do we do with this?

If you are not eager to attend an observance, make yourself do it. If you can’t go at night, go in the morning to one of the Catholic or Episcopal rites. Lent is a season for getting your body to go the direction of your faith. Wear the cross.

If you have not prepared for Lent to begin, now would be a good time to do it. Maybe you should get on Amazon (or go wherever) and buy a cross to wear all season — or make one! (The kids might love to do that). You can try on all the traditional disciplines of Lent (especially the fast). But if you sit with Jesus for a few minutes it might become obvious what this year’s observance should be about for you — go with your inspiration.

13 things you can do to stay of the Lent pilgrimage

  1. Take the weekly readings from Sunday wprship and chew on them all week in the daily time you set apart to be with God. You could use 2POAPT.
  2. Check your church’s calendar and make a commitment for which meetings you will attend, then go to the meetings. This is a bigger deal than we think, usually. Going to a meeting gets our body in line with our convictions.
  3. Try a new spiritual practice. Go on a personal retreat. Try 20 minutes of contemplation every day. Study a book. Saturate yourself in a book of the Bible each week, reading it as many times as you can.
  4. Ponder how you use money. Maybe pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a charity that makes your heart warm.
  5. Take something on: A weekly letter to someone. A daily random act of kindness. Sunday phone calls to important or needy people in your life. Hold that dinner party you thought about.
  6. When you first sit down in front of your computer, or at the very end of your workday, try a 10-minute guided prayer from Sacred Space daily prayer.
  7. Buy a new cross of icon to use for Lent and give to someone on Easter.
  8. Instead of turning on a streaming service for your next binge-watching session, read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.
  9. Unplug from your phone or turn off your car radio on your commute. Let the silence jar you until you are acclimated to being yourself with God in solitude.
  10. Buy a book of daily reflections and keep it by your bed or prayer chair. Try a book by Edward Hays.
  11. Think about a habit that has kept you from being who God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
  12. Tap into your creative side somehow. You could try coloring as a way to pray. Write that song or story or poem.
  13. Read the works of mercy Jesus describes in Matthew 25:31-46. Put His teaching into practice by choosing and act or two of service you can offer during Lent.

Mardi Gras — February 13, 2024

Bible Connection

Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth — 1 Corinthians 5:8 

All about Mardi Gras

Like Gideon’s trumpet (Judges 6:33-40), the season of Lent calls all the tribes together to resist the enemies of God. Though we seem weak, we are strong because God is with us. The most unlikely weaklings will dance in the street in the face of the powers attempting to dominate them. Mardi Gras is appropriately uproarious, if you see it right. In some sense, to be a Jesus-follower is to be a fool, to use your clowning to unmask the powers-that-be who pretend they are very serious entities when, in fact, they are just a breath and have a master.

Lent has rarely been see the way we just mentioned. The Eve of Lent became a time to hold off the inevitable, even to mock and diminish the authority of the spiritual season “imposed” on everyone which begins on Ash Wednesday. In Europe, the church of the Middle Ages had a lot of power to impose the rigors of an enforced fast during the 40 days (not including Sundays) leading up to Easter. Before the fast began, people partied and did things they shouldn’t do in order to get those things out of their system before they committed (or were forced to commit) to doing the things they should do.

Lupercalia — Andrea Camasei (1635)

Most historians believe Mardi Gras was brought to the Americas by the French explorer Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville in 1699, but the origins of Mardi Gras go back much farther. According to History.com, Mardi Gras resembles February celebrations from ancient times:

“According to historians, Mardi Gras dates back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of spring and fertility, including the raucous Roman [festival of] Lupercalia. When Christianity arrived in Rome, religious leaders decided to incorporate these popular local traditions into the new faith, an easier task than abolishing them altogether. As a result, the excess and debauchery of the Mardi Gras season became a prelude to Lent, the 40 days of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.”

German Fasnacht costume. Calling Richard Twiss!

Many Protestants give the “side eye” to such cultural accretions to their holy days (Santa and the Easter Bunny, included). Perhaps the enculturation of Christianity was a mainly crafty political move when Christians took over government authority. But maybe that was not all. Maybe Jesus followers trusted Jesus to redeem and use the pre-Christian celebrations. You’ll have to decide. In Philly, Mardi Gras is often for getting drunk, whether people are giving up alcohol for Lent, or not. You’ll have to decide.

One of the things many people did (and still do) on Mardi Gras was eat all the foods they wouldn’t be seeing for a while during their Lenten fast. “Carnivale” means “putting away meat.” In Pennsylvania Dutch territory a “fastnacht” came to be the name of a donut instead of the title of the day (as in Fast Night or Lent Eve). The holiday came to mean “the day we use up all the lard.”

Unfortunately, “Fat Tuesday” (Mardi Gras in French) came to be a day to store up as much of the past as possible, so one could endure the season of moving into what is next. Instead of being shriven on Shrove Tuesday, many people are just like Peter, trying to keep Jesus (and themselves) from going to Jerusalem.

More

The news gave a priest 5 minutes to explain Mardi Gras and the whole season:

What do we do with this?

If Christians don’t lead in the joy, are they hiding their light under a bushel? Do we really believe loving and sharing space with people will contaminate our holiness? That’s not too incarnational. What does it say about Jesus if we withdraw?

Jesus’ journey to the cross is the ultimate pilgrimage into what is next. Let’s respond to the trumpet and move with him. Let’s keep in mind his concerns, so we don’t get stuck in what is merely human. There’s nothing wrong with being human, of course, unless we don’t have in mind the things of God. If people think you are a fool, that might be a good thing.

Getting drunk, like many in the Philadelphia region will be doing, is a short-cut to being a fool and rightly considered foolish. It is not the kind of foolishness we’re talking about.

Fanny J. Crosby — February 12

Fanny J Crosby

Bible connection

They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.”

And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”  So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.

Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”

The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”  

Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way. – Mark 10:46-52

All about Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Francis Jane Crosby wrote more than 9,000 hymns, some of which are among the most popular in every Christian denomination. She wrote so many that she was forced to use pen names lest the hymnals be filled with her name above all others. And, for most people, the most remarkable thing about her was that she had done so in spite of her blindness. What many don’t consider is that she also did it in spite of her lifelong struggle with depression and isolation.

“I think it is a great pity that the Master did not give you sight when he showered so many other gifts upon you,” remarked one well-meaning preacher. Fanny Crosby famously responded, “Do you know that if at birth I had been able to make one petition, it would have been that I was born blind? Because when I get to heaven, the first face that shall ever gladden my sight will be that of my Savior.” Born in Putnam County, New York, Crosby became ill within two months. Unfortunately, the family doctor was away, and another man—pretending to be a certified doctor—prescribed a treatment that left her blind. A few months later, Crosby’s father died. Her mother was forced to find work as a maid to support the family.

Her love of poetry began early—her first verse, written at age 8, echoed her lifelong refusal to feel sorry for herself:

Oh, what a happy soul I am,
although I cannot see!
I am resolved that in this world
Contented I will be.

How many blessings I enjoy
That other people don’t,
To weep and sigh because I’m blind
I cannot, and I won’t!

She zealously memorized the Bible. Memorizing five chapters a week, even as a child she could recite the Pentateuch, the Gospels, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and many psalms chapter and verse.

Her mother’s hard work allowed her to attend the recently founded New York Institute for the Blind, which was her home for 23 years — 12 as a student, 11 as a teacher. She gave herself to poetry and was called upon to offer poems for various occasions. One principal considered her art vanity. But the prophecy of a traveling phrenologist, of all people, changed the school’s mind and re-ignited her passion: “Here is a poetess. Give her every possible encouragement. Read the best books to her and teach her the finest that is in poetry. You will hear from this young lady some day.”

That day came sooner than later. By age 23 Crosby was addressing Congress and making friendships with presidents. In fact, she knew all the chief executives of her lifetime, especially Grover Cleveland, who served as secretary for the Institute for the Blind before his election. After graduation from the NYIB in 1843, Crosby joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. arguing for support of education for the blind. She was the first woman to speak in the United States Senate when she read a poem there. She appeared before the joint houses of Congress and recited these lines:

O ye, who here from every state convene,
Illustrious band! may we not hope the scene
You now behold will prove to every mind
Instruction hath a ray to cheer the blind.

In 1844, when she was 24, she published a collection of poetry titled The Blind Girl and Other Poems (a bestseller which is still in print).  She was inspired to write it when she was speaking about the value of placing blind children in an institution like the one in which she grew up.

The tears, warm gushing on her cheek,
Told what no language e’er could speak;
While their young hearts were light and gay,
Her hours passed heavily away –
A mental night was o’er her thrown;
She sat dejected, and alone….
Alas! How bitter is my lot
Without a friend—without a home—
Alone—unpitied and forgot—
A sightless orphan, now I roam….

But He who marks the sparrow’s fall
Will hear the helpless orphan’s call.
My mother bid me trust his care,
He will not leave me to despair.”…
How changed that sightless orphan now:
No longer clouded is her brow..
If o’er the past her memory stray,
Then music’s sweet and charming lay,
Drives each dark vision from her breast
And lulls each heaving sigh to rest.

In the poem, we can hear the battle she will wage the rest of her life with depression. She seems to be dealing with her automatic thoughts with poetry, music and positivity.

Another member of the institute, former pupil Alexander van Alstine, married Crosby in 1858. Considered one of New York’s best organists, he wrote the music for many of Crosby’s hymns. Crosby herself wrote music for only a few of her poems, though she played harp, piano, guitar, and other instruments. More often, musicians came to her for lyrics. For example, one day musician William Doane dropped by her home for a surprise visit, begging her to put some words to a tune he had recently written and which he was to perform at an upcoming Sunday School convention. The only problem was that his train to the convention was leaving in 35 minutes. He sat at the piano and played the tune. “Your music says, ‘Safe in the Arms of Jesus,’” Crosby said, scribbling out the hymn’s words immediately. “Read it on the train and hurry. You don’t want to be late!” The hymn became one of Crosby’s most famous.

Though she was under contract to submit three hymns a week to her publisher and often wrote six or seven a day (for a dollar or two each), many became incredibly popular. Crosby became known as the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers” and as the “Mother of modern congregational singing in America.” Ira Sankey attributed the success of the Moody and Sankey evangelical campaigns largely to Crosby’s hymns. They are still sung by all sorts of Christians all over the world as this sampling demonstrates: Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads MeTo God Be the GloryPass Me Not, O Gentle Savior, Rescue the Perishing Praise Him! Praise Him!, Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross, He Hideth My Soul.

At the end of her life, Fanny’s concept of her vocation was not that of a celebrated gospel songwriter, but that of a city mission worker. In 1880, aged 60, Crosby made a new commitment to Christ to devote the rest of her life to serve the poor. She lived in a dismal flat near one of the worst slums in Manhattan until about 1884. In an interview published in  1908 Crosby said her chief occupation was working in missions. She was aware of the great needs of immigrants and the urban poor, and was passionate to help those around her through urban rescue missions and other compassionate ministry organizations.  This was a flowering of her conviction, not something new. She said, “From the time I received my first check for my poems, I made up my mind to open my hand wide to those who needed assistance.” Throughout her life, she was described as having “a horror of wealth,” never set prices for her speaking engagements, often refused honoraria, and “what little she did accept she gave away almost as soon as she got it.”

She could write very complex hymns and compose music with a more classical structure (she could even improvise it), but she preferred to write simple, sentimental verses that could be used for evangelism. She continued to write her poetry up to her death, a month shy of her ninety-fifth birthday. “You will reach the river brink, some sweet day, bye and bye,” was her last stanza.

More

45-minute bio

A three-minute version from the Methodists:

What do we do with this?

Some people today look back on Fanny J. Crosby from a perspective of “psychotherapeutic holiness.” Their questions have merit, since many Christians deal with their depression with can-do religion, through spiritual bypass and by following examples like Fanny J. Crosby. But casting blanket aspersions might not be fair. Fanny had a genius about her, or a revelation that allowed her to pull health-giving decisions out of the air. Maybe, in her case, depression was just what she needed to perfect trust in God. At least that’s what she thought.

Your genius might present some problems for you, too.  What is your best route to giving your gifts without denying the suffering that might diminish them or just might refine them? Maybe you should write a poem about that and find a musician to make it a hymn.

Richard Twiss — February 9

Richard Twiss

Bible connection

The Word became flesh and blood,
and moved into the neighborhood.
We saw the glory with our own eyes,
the one-of-a-kind glory,
like Father, like Son,
Generous inside and out,
true from start to finish. — John 1:14 (The Message)

All about Richard Twiss (1954-2013)

Richard, Tayoate Ob Najin (He Stands With His People), was born on the Rosebud Reservation (Sicangu Lakota Oyate) in South Dakota in 1954. His father was a member of the Oglala Sioux from Pine Ridge Reservation, also in South Dakota. After his parents separated when he was seven years old, Richard moved to Denver, CO with his mother during a period of Indian urbanization (see the Federal Indian Relocation Act). They eventually moved to Oregon where Richard finished high school. They made visits back to the Rez, staying in touch with relatives.

Twiss moved back to Rosebud to attend his first year of college at Sinte Gleska (Spotted Tail) University where he became involved with the radical politics of the American Indian Movement (AIM). He participated in the famous takeover of the Bureau of Indian Affairs office in 1971. He wandered and experimented with many substances. One night in 1974 on the island of Maui, Jesus responded to Richard’s desperate prayer. There began a transformation that was coming into its fullness at the end of his life as a Lakota follower of the Jesus Way.

Two years after meeting Jesus, he married Katherine (Scottish and Norwegian decent) while living in an intentional community in Alaska. Together, they had four sons. Richard served as pastor of a mostly white church (their family being the notable exception) in Washington State for over a decade. While there, Richard felt a nudging of the Holy Spirit. Across the US and Canada and around the world, Indigenous People were sloughing off the colonial residue that lifted up dominant cultural norms above other God-endowed cultures such as their own. This residue is typified by the U.S. policy of “Kill the Indian, Save the Man” that resulted in the abuses of the  residential schools.

In 1997, he and Katherine began Wiconi International, a non-profit ministry “to work for the well-being of our Native people by advancing cultural formation, indigenous education, spiritual awareness and social justice connected to the teachings and life of Jesus, through an indigenous worldview framework.” Richard taught and spoke in many contexts, local to the Portland area, around the U.S. and the world. Richard not only taught about the wonders of creation but also the negative impact of Christian mission in the U.S. — all with his disarming sense of humor. He received a doctorate from Asbury Theological Seminary in 2011 (Intercultural Studies) and authored two books One Church, Many Tribes: following Jesus the Way God Made You and Rescuing Theology from the Cowboys: An Emerging Indigenous Expression of the Jesus Way in North America as well as many articles. His contributions to contextualizing the gospel have been a source of healing and inspiration for Indians and non-natives.

Richard Twiss was one of the founders of the North American Institute for Indigenous Studies, an Indigenous learning community that now includes several seminary programs. He served on the board of directors of the Christian Community Development Association and the Native American Youth and Family Center in Portland and others as well as being the U.S. representative for the World Christian Gathering of Indigenous Peoples.

Dr. Twiss did not live without critics of his work from within native communities and from Christians. Toward the end of his life, he often talked about the next generation carrying on the work. He had a knack for expressing love and including people. His capacity to forgive astonished many but did not dissuade him from working for justice or inspiring people to fall deeper in love with Jesus and walk in His Way.

In 2013, while in Washington, DC to participate in the National Prayer Breakfast, Richard suffered a massive heart attack. He died three days later on February 9th, surrounded by his wife and their four sons at 58 years of age.

Richard Twiss often received credit for the work and wisdom of his community because of his notoriety and charisma. He thought that was funny. He did not promote himself nearly as much as he did the movement. His goal was to build the community. He gathered people, encouraged them to love and give of themselves to fulfill a vision of reconciliation, to move toward what his close friend Randy Woodley describes as “the community of creation.” He always tried to speak from a place of community, and did not strive to be a celebrity as much as demonstrate the Lakota value of being Ikce Wicasa, a common human person.

More

A short article for Mission Frontiers “Making Jesus Known in Knowable Ways” [link]

Video of Richard’s keynote speech at CCDA 2011 [link]

Wiconi International’s Youtube page, several short pieces [link]

Red Letter Christians’ tribute page to Richard [link]

What do we do with this?

Richard Twiss did not have an intact family or an easy youth, yet Jesus called him, healed him, and made him an influential proponent of radical Christianity. Consider how Jesus is calling you.

This ancestor in faith may have introduced you to many aspects of American culture that were unfamiliar to you. Spend some time learning and allow your heart to become large enough to include brother and sisters unlike you.

Brigid of Kildare — February 1

Brigid of Kildare

Bible connection

Read John 1:10-14

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

All about Brigid (c. 451-515)

Today is the traditional feast day to celebrate Brigid of Kildare. She was a crucial figure in the 5th Century church, particularly in Ireland. Brigid was a convert to the faith, a nun, an abbess, and the founder of several monasteries, most famously at Kildare. Her powerful office as the abbess of Kildare (an office which held the powers of a bishop until the 12th Century), made her an unusual and somewhat controversial figure.

Her father was a pagan chieftain and her mother was a Christian. Some have said Brigid’s mother was born in Portugal, kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland to work as a slave, just like St. Patrick was. Brigid’s father named her after one of the most powerful goddesses of the pagan religion: the goddess of fire, whose manifestations were song, craftsmanship, and poetry, which the Irish considered elements of the flame of knowledge. Despite her grand name, Brigid spent her early life cooking, cleaning, washing and feeding the animals on her father’s farm, the daughter of a slave.

She lived during the time of St. Patrick and was inspired by his preaching. She became a Christian. When Brigid turned eighteen, she stopped working for her father. Brigid’s father wanted her to find a husband but she had already decided she would spend her life working for God by looking after poor, sick and elderly people. Brigid’s charity angered her father because he thought she was being too generous. When she finally gave his jewel-encrusted sword to a leper, her father realized she would be best suited to the religious life. Brigid finally got her wish and entered an intentional Christian community (call it a convent or monastery).

News of Brigid’s good works spread and soon many young women from all over the country joined her community. She founded many convents all over Ireland; the most famous one was built beside an oak tree where the town of Kildare now stands. Around 470 she also founded a double monastery, for men and women, in Kildare. As Abbess of this foundation she wielded considerable power, and was a very wise and prudent superior. The Abbey of Kildare became one of the most prestigious monastic communities in Ireland, and was famous throughout Christian Europe. You can still visit the site, with its striking tower.

Her cross (she’s holding it in the icon above) is a famous symbol of using ordinary things to show God’s love by sharing one’s time and labor — like the famous story of her weaving a cross out of flooring to demonstrate the gospel to a dying man. Here is one version of the story: A pagan chieftain who lived near Kildare was dying. Christians in his household sent for Brigid to talk to him about Christ. When she arrived the chieftain was raving. As it was impossible to instruct this delirious man; hopes for his conversion dimmed. Brigid sat down at his bedside to console him. As was customary, the dirt floor was strewn with rushes both for warmth and cleanliness. Brigid stooped down and started to weave them into a cross, fastening the points together. The sick man asked what she was doing. She began to explain the cross, and as she talked his delirium quieted and he questioned her with growing interest. Through her weaving, he converted and was baptized at the point of death. Ever since then the cross of rushes has been an important symbol in Ireland.

More

A bio from Solas Bhride in Kildare [link]

A bio from the Brigidine Sisters in Australia: [link]

Thoughts from Rod, who “visited” Brigid on pilgrimage [link]

Inspired to a pilgrimage? [link]

What do we do with this?

Brigid reminds us that women have always been esteemed by God as worthy leaders. Men have often denied them their calling, but Spirit filled sisters often break through the injustice. Celebrate the daring women of faith you know!

Brigid reminds us of earth, wind, fire and water. Her home-grown, Celtic Christianity is full of natural elements, including a fire symbolizing God’s presence which she and her band tended in Kildare — one which burned continuously for centuries.

There is a Druid goddess named Brigid, as well. Sometimes the Irish have gotten the saint and goddess mixed up. But we can celebrate how the yearning represented in gods and goddesses are met in Jesus, as Brigid boldly proclaimed. Think about honoring the yearning of people around you. Imagine how you can connect them to Jesus.