Author Archives: jrandolphclark

Masonic Quote of the Week – 5/31/2017

“To me, Freemasonry is one form of dedication to God and service to humanity. I am proud to walk in fraternal fellowship with my Brethren. Why am I a Freemason? Simply because I am proud to be a man who wants to keep the moral standards of life at high level and leave something behind so others will benefit. Only as I, personally, become better, can I help others to do the same.”

Rev. Norman Vincent Peale
The Scottish Rite Journal – February 1993

Best known for his book The Power of Positive Thinking, Rev. Peale was also an active and respected Freemason. He was born this day in 1898 in Bowersville, Ohio. 

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Damon and Pythias

This weekend I was a guest presenter at the 2017 Ohio DeMolay Leaders of Excellence Image result for damon and pythias(ODLE). What an honor to address these young men striving to be the best DeMolay leaders and members they can be. Amidst all of the leadership training and life lessons a brief moment reminded me of the greatest purpose of DeMolay – and of Freemasonry, too, that gave birth to the order in 1919.

Just before my presentation, Dad Martin Woodworth, Executive Officer for Ohio DeMolay, read a page from the ODLE manual explaining one of the allusions in the DeMolay ritual to historic and legendary friendships – the story of Damon and Pythias.

Sentenced to die, Damon asked for permission to return home and set his affairs in order but promised to return. The incredulous tyrant who had sentenced him to death refused. Damon’s friend, Pythias, agreed to stand as substitute and to die in his place if he did not return. Damon returned true to his word. So astonished was the ruler at this act of brotherly love that he freed both men.

20170527_214815001002Martin then introduced me and ended his brief words by saying I was a friend for whom he would make such a sacrifice. As I would for him.  Although I began my presentation with some good-natured joshing of him, the truth is I found it hard to speak after hearing those words. Why? Not only because Randy and Martin share such friendship but because our own sons are forming the same kind of relationship. And I am honored to serve under his leadership so others might know such brotherly love too.

Damon and Pythias. Martin and Randy. Josiah and Brock.

How could I ask for more?

 

Image result for greater love has no man than this

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The Paschal Mystery – Sunday

image

Rejoice, heavenly choirs of angels.
Rejoice, all creation around God’s throne.

Jesus Christ, our King, is risen!
Sound the trumpet of salvation.

Rejoice, O earth, in shining splendor,
Radiant in the brightness of your King.

Christ has conquered! Glory fills you!
Darkness vanishes for ever.

This is our Passover feast when Christ,
the true Lamb, is slain,
whose blood consecrates
the homes of all believers.

This is the night when you, Lord our God,
first saved our ancestors in the faith;
you delivered the people of Israel
from their salvery
and led them dry-shod through the sea.

This is the night when Christ broke
the chains of death
and rose triumphant from the grave.
This is the night truly blessed, when heaven is wedded to earth,
and all creation is reconciled with God.

Therefore, Father, in the joy of this night,
receive our sacrifice of praise and
thanksgiving.
Let us sing with joy,
joining the mighty chorus
of all God’s people!

The “Exultet” is an ancient hymn of the Roman Catholic Church, an Easter proclamation which recounts the saving acts of God in the Old and New Testaments. Historically, the Exultet was sung only once each year at the beginning of the Paschal (Easter) Vigil Service. That service began on Saturday night in darkness and ended on Easter Sunday morning in the light. 

Taken from the following website:
http://www.faithandworship.com/prayers_Easter.htm

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The Paschal Mystery – Saturday

It’s hard today to pretend like tomorrow isn’t Easter. How many people have I seen post on Facebook or say in conversation ‘But Sunday’s coming!’ And it is.

But we do well to put ourselves back into that first Saturday before Easter. A Sabbath day for Jesus’ disciples. A day of rest and worship. For them, it was a day to recover from the shock of what had just transpired. A day that should have been filled with warm memories of a special Passover was instead a post-traumatic nightmare of regret, guilt, and fear.

I don’t know about any of my readers… but I have certainly found myself there. Full of hopes that were crushed. Faith tested, torn, even overturned.Thinking back over a friendship that was destroyed and knowing how it happened. And knowing it cannot be repaired. Seeing my own sins that I would give anything to undo. But can’t.

Today is a tiny Lent. A day to wait. To wrestle with what is and attempt to cope with it To know, really, how faithlessness and loss of faith feel.

There can be no Sunday without Saturday and Friday. No resurrection without both the cross and the day that follows.

Today give to God those things that we can so easily understand from the disciples’ experience on that Saturday. We cannot avoid them or evade them. We can when Sunday comes live with them.

 

 

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The Paschal Mystery – Friday

Today is the day we mark the death of Jesus. Always a somber day – a day for reflection, for confession and truth.

At the risk of missing the point of this day… I have always wondered about the details of Jesus’ death. The little things that happen and yet merit the attention and mention of the gospel writers.

EliEli, lema sabachthani?”     The gospel writers make a point to quote Jesus in Aramaic. One of the few times in the narratives of Jesus’ life they do so. Some in the crowds think he is calling for Elijah, which seems the reason these words are quoted as they are.They wait to see if Elijah will come to save him.

Where, oh where, am I confused about what Jesus is saying and doing? Jesus is speaking… and I hear. But I don’t understand. And I don’t know that I don’t understand. He is speaking another language than the one I know. I need to learn to hear as Jesus speaks. Like any language, it takes time and attention to understand the nuances not only of inflection and order but of tone and cadence. The one on the cross still speaks if I will learn to understand what he is saying. I am not sure how often I really do.

“51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.” (Matthew 27:51-53)

I have tended to hear the first part of this passage and its potent symbolism of the curtain between God and humanity torn. The barrier removed. The holy let out into the world. You’ve probably heard such things said and more.

This second part is more perplexing. The dead – the holy dead- came out of their tombs and after Jesus’ resurrection appeared to people. Wait. After his resurrection? In the story, Jesus is not yet buried. He has just died.  And the earth responds in violence and shock.

Like the not understanding what Jesus is saying, how often do I not understand or perceive what God is doing? All of us filter our experiences. Otherwise we’d be overwhelmed and overloaded. Am I filtering out the strange things God is doing because they don’t fit what I expect? Is the power and wonder of the cross lost because I see only what I can understand – which is precious little?

This day perhaps more than any other is a great mystery. I know the theology and the multiplicity of ways we understand what Jesus is doing on the cross and what God is doing in and through him. But the truth is we don’t quite know. It isn’t something our minds can really grasp.

Let the earth quake and the curtain tear. Let the dead come forth and speak. It defies logic or even human experience.

It simply is. And it is enough.

 

 

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The Paschal Mystery – Thursday

Today, Maundy or Holy Thursday, plunges us into the climax of redemption history. Roman Catholics speak of the Paschal Mystery that encompasses God’s great drama enacted in these days and finishing at Jesus’ Ascension. Walk with me these next few days and ponder with me the steps of Jesus and our own tentative steps as we follow behind.

 

Tonight we remember. Like the Jews of then and now, we remember God’s mighty acts. For us, it is not the deliverance of a people and the birth of a nation but rather God’s mighty acts in a person. No way through the waters. No armies destroyed. But a man, alone and tired. In agony of spirit before the physical trial begins. Alone long before he cries out to God from the cross his abandonment. Against the backdrop of the Passover, the curtain opens for the final act of the cosmic yet personal drama of his life and approaching death.

What strikes me every year is how alone, utterly, Jesus is. You see it in the Upper Room as Jesus begins to move toward his destiny. He moves not just physically toward the cross but away from his friends and followers. He turns his back on them. Not to abandon them – far from it. But because they cannot go where he is going. They are unable to fathom what he is doing – let alone the Father’s will. Only the God-man can go where Jesus’ feet are about travel. He leaves the room with his followers knowing they will drop away much sooner than their denials.

In the garden, Christ becomes the savior who knows the agony of human existence. Many of us cannot grasp the horror of the crucifixion and the torture that precedes it. All of us know the agony of spirit that this man feels alone while his disciples sleep. All of us know what it is to see what’s coming and to pray – desperately, fervently, hopelessly – that it would not come. But it will.

And to know the solitude not of prayer, but of abandonment. Not the soul refreshing moment apart from the world but to stand in the crowded ways of life and feel nevertheless as if the world is empty. More to the point, to be on the outside of every group, relationship, community. We’ve felt it and will feel it again.

Jesus prays knowing the answer is “no.” Knowing that God will not, can not, do anything about what is to come.

Some time with that Jesus today is a thing we all need even with its pain and grief. Friday will come soon enough and not before Thursday’s beginning.

 

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Lent and the Long Road

Lent is a long road – forty days. An echo of Jesus’ forty days of temptation and the forty years Israel spent on their journey from Egypt.

When my dad died in 2011, I can remember thinking – often – “When will this end?” The grief. It never did. Not really. To think of my dad mostly provokes love and gratitude. But there is still a sting, a pain. It still hurts. It took a long time to get to where I am in my life-long grief. All of us will experience some grief – some much. I wanted the pain of grief to be over right away. It took time… a journey… to get to life beyond.

Lent is forty days long because there are no shortcuts from where we are to where God wants us to be. This is true physically – we cannot go from being 10 to being 60, from being a child to being mature, overnight. We cannot lose fifty pounds in a week. Or get in shape over the weekend.It is also true spiritually. Not even Jesus took shortcuts. He spent 30 years or so preparing for his mission. It took three years to move from its beginning to its end and his eventual triumph over sin and death.

So much more spiritually. Not even Jesus took shortcuts. He spent thirty years or so preparing for his mission. It took three years to move from its beginning to its end and his eventual triumph over sin and death. There was no road except the long one. There was no path except the one that took his entire life to walk.

Should I expect any less of my life? I crave shortcuts, templates, silver bullets and quick wins. They don’t exist. At least not with anything that matters. We all crave winning the lottery – not just the ones that pay money. But the moment of instant change in circumstances. They happen now and again. But they are not the norm that God intends.

For me the great challenge is not to live in the future – not to have my attention on the empty tomb while I stumble along the road toward Jerusalem, toward the trials and the suffering and the cross that are there. Two weeks remain until Easter and there is much between the now and then. A garden. Trial. Betrayal. Torture. Suffering. Disillusionment. A cross. Death. Grief.

If we will make the journey such things stand before us, too. We may not welcome them. But we must face and experience them before we get to the empty tomb.

 

 

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Lent and Atheism

If you are reading this via the Facebook link, I will not see any comments or responses you make there. I am not on Facebook other than through things like WordPress, Instagram, and Twitter that post there automatically. If you want to comment or reach me use one of those means to do so. 

Hmmm. Yes, Lent and atheism.

About six years ago I came across what Craig Groeschel called “Christian atheism.” In its simplest form, it means believing in God but living as if he does not exist. It is what the Bible calls idolatry: rather than worshiping and yielding to God as he is, we create a god in our own image. Made in the image of God, we make a god in our image who conforms to our expectations. Those poor people made gods of stone and metal and wood. We make gods in our imaginations. Far more subtle and dangerous. It is easy to know that I am bowing before a golden image. It is far harder to discern when I am bowing before a god of my imagination.

If we take seriously the spiritual journey that Lent offers we will see this atheism for what it is. We will allow God’s Spirit to reveal where and how we bow to ourselves or others. Am I seeking God’s will? Or am I weaving a myth in which God wants for me what I want? Convenient. And deadly.

The other atheism that Lent brings to mind is more subtle but also necessary. On the day of Jesus’ death that we will soon observe, Jesus cries from the cross “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” The weeks that remain before Good Friday allow us to ask – What if God isn’t there? What if God were to abandon us? What if God were not there and is as much our imagining as the idols we make in our hearts?

This may not seem right – to wander into doubt and uncertainty. This Lent I wonder if that is indeed a place to go. Pondering what would be if God were not. Or if God were not interested in our lives and well-being. Not to believe that God is not but to understand more fully what it means to live as if he isn’t in the subtle illusion of a functional atheism that is as bad as not believing at all.

To recognize anew our utter need for God. Our entire dependence on Christ. To hear the still small voice of the Holy Spirit always speaking into mind and heart.

This Lent join me in seeing where our faith is in ourselves more than in the Self Beyond All Selves. Ask where I want what I want – and always left wanting. The looming death of Christ invites us to seek the death of the atheism in us that robs the death of Jesus of its power to transform and make whole.

May our idols die. May our atheism yield.

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Lent and Anxiety

If you are reading this via Facebook, know that I am not on Facebook for the remaining days of Lent. If you want to respond please do so on the blog page otherwise I won’t see your words. 

Been a little under the weather, too, this week so today’s post comes on Saturday rather than Friday. Hopefully back to the schedule next week.

Continuing Friday (Saturday) Lenten reflections…. today I turn to Lent and anxiety. A subject I know well. Anxiety more than Lent.

This Lent has brought to light how anxious I am and always have been. I have never been a calm person, even when I appeared so. I have always been anxious even in childhood. I don’t understand the roots of this anxiety but it is there. Fretting. Worrying. Over-thinking. Some of us are predisposed for a variety of reasons to such anxiety. Some of us experience trauma that instills it in us. Most of us are anxious and driven at times by that anxiety.

We are anxious about being left out. That we will fail. About our status – with another person, in a group, in the broader strata of life. Anxious about how someone feels about us. We fret about the future. We worry about the outcomes of decisions or mistakes made. How anxious are you?

Lent can help reveal the depths of our anxiety. In sacrificing something, we have an opportunity to reflect on our hungers and drives. Longing for chocolate or coffee or social media helps us stop and look at what drives our decisions, our reactions. Acting out of our commitment or decision is a different thing than reacting to our urges or drives. Awareness of what drives us allows us to give this to Christ and to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our drives and hungers in different directions.

As I am thinking about my interactions with people online, in person, over time I see this anxiety in bold letters. How many times I act (react) out of my anxiousness instead of wisdom, charity, or grace.  I could name specific people and situations over the last few weeks that would have been different absent anxiety.

This is not just Christian-ish pop psychology. Or a God of Therapy made in my own image. Anxiety is addressed in the Scriptures. For instance, Paul tells the church at Phillipi:

 “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
(Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)

The antithesis of anxiety is peace. And a peace that “transcends understanding:” a peace that is greater than the very powerful and very real sources of anxiety. An anxiety against which God can safeguard us if we allow.

Paul’s advice is prayer. Lest we find this trite, it means hard work. It means working to put the outcome of things in God’s hands rather than our fevered and painful imaginings. It means believing that God’s imagination of what can be is greater and better than we can manage even at our best. And often do at our worst.

 

 

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Lent and Losing Things

This Lent I am doing things solo (by which I mean without a church home and therefore without the usual groups I have had or led for study and reflection and discipline and sometimes worship). It has underscored for me that Lent is partly about learning that we can do without things we think we cannot. Many of us surrender some cherished thing for Lent – an activity, a food or beverage. Some people take social media fasts.

Most of us do not need these things – chocolate, Diet Coke, Twitter, coffee, meat, Facebook. They are things we enjoy. Or (like coffee for me) crutches we need to get through the day or get the day on track.

These sacrifices, great or small, serve a variety of spiritual purposes. The one that is on my  mind today is loss. Not losing things like our keys or an umbrella. But losses that cut us to the soul – friendships, jobs, loved ones, financial security, marriages, a home, things we thought were true but turn out to be false, dreams we cherished and held but that never came to be. These are things whose loss is painful and not merely inconvenient. It can feel like death. Because it is death.

Lent is a training ground for loss. Learning by not drinking coffee how to lose a friend (either to death or the relationship’s end). Learning by not eating meat how to lose a job or a home. Inside these little losses that we intentionally suffer God works to help us grapple with the deaths that come and not just during Lent.

I am not sure I would have thought so, but this Lent is for me a time of loss. I haven’t given up anything this year but have lost lots of things. It is unsettling to have lost familiar patterns and not feeling able to reclaim them elsewhere – study groups, special activities, the weekly flow of worship. I have a new career that I love and to which God led me. But the old one hovers around in the background and won’t be ignored. My weekly pattern of life has changed dramatically and after four months it still feels… odd.

Just recently I experienced the loss of a friendship or at least I think so. It was a renewed acquaintance from my youth that now seems to be gone. Like all loss of personal connection it is disorienting, confusing, troubling. We always wonder what could have been different. What we did. What we didn’t. Even when we know the facts we don’t always  understand the why. Sometimes we just know it is gone and nothing more.

Lent can teach us about enduring even in the face of loss. We will not die even though we have experienced death. We will not be unmade because some part of us seems lost or broken or injured. We will not be overwhelmed even if we feel like we are sinking in grief.

And even when we are overwhelmed… God remakes on the other side of Lent. This is not just the therapeutic God who comes to make things better. There is a God who comes to make the dead alive. And to make death yield to life. There is destruction but also new creation. There is a cross but also a vacated tomb. There is death but there is also resurrection. We cannot bear it all but we lean on and toward a Someone who can.

 

 

 

 

 

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