Author Archives: jrandolphclark

The Cost of Dreaming

The Lord had said to Abram,
“Go from your country, your people and your father’s household
to the land I will show you.

Following your dream – rather, following God’s dream – is one of humanity’s great adventures. Something for which we are made. Our lives have their greatest significance when we follow God’s leading and live out God’s dream.

Abram (who becomes Abraham) followed what God had said to him. It wasn’t easy. Nor quick. He spent years before he saw the fulfillment of God’s promise. And even then he saw only part of what God promised. Along the way, he made mistakes often. Along the way, he experienced doubt and family discord and loss.  

Sometimes we think if we could just get it right… if we could just discern God’s will… if we would hear clearly what God is saying then it will all be all right. But it won’t. We may find ourselves broke, alone, and wounded. Many of the faithful ones of God experienced suffering and even death because they said “yes” to God. Jesus himself reaches the climax of his mission in suffering and death. Should we expect anything different?  

Too often we think, and I have thought and counseled and even preached a gospel of “everything will be all right.” It will but perhaps not now. It will but perhaps not here. To follow God’s vision for your life is always right – it will not always turn out all right.  

Twice in my life I have made a big career change. In both cases, I experienced a significant financial loss. In both cases, I lost a security net and, even more, a sense of security in leaving “my country and my people.” In both cases, people were confused or uncertain about what I had done. People questioned the rightness of my choice.  It was right in both cases. Even now I am experiencing some of the cost in multiple ways of having left ministry when I did. It was still the right decision. It was still what God led me to do.

It was right in both cases. Even now I am experiencing some of the cost in multiple ways of having left ministry when I did. It was still the right decision. It was still what God led me to do. It may not all “work out” – meaning some things lost are lost for good. Some costs (by which I mean not just financial but also relational, social, emotional, etc.) won’t get repaid. 

I would be wrong to compare my experiences of following God’s will in great and small moments to the suffering of Christ or the deaths of the martyrs. But saying “yes” to God always costs us.  The journey of faith will lead to places where did not want to go and might not have gone had we known. But it is always worth it. So say “yes.”

 

 

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The Bishop’s Ghost

In the last few days I have read several blog posts about the church – church attendance, church culture. This one from the Facebook post of a friend on church attendance. But this one on ghosting by the in the church – Christian Ghosting. – has really stayed on my mind. The blog was originally shared on a Facebook friend’s timeline, too. The long chain of responses expressing hurt and pain were hard to read – harder to ignore.

Ghosting means someone abruptly ends a friendship with little or no explanation and withdraws from a person’s life. I’ve experienced it in many spheres of life. But this ghosting in the church? I’ve seen it.  I am afraid I have done it. I have experienced it.

When I was a United Methodist pastor, we talked often of covenant, collegiality, community. What we don’t talk about it and won’t admit that the ghosting in the church extends to this sacred community of clergy colleagues. It might be where it has its most perfect form.

When I talked with my district superintendent about my decision to leave active ministry, I chose a method of leaving that made the most sense to me and to my family. I submitted the paperwork, And I waited. I heard from the board of pensions because I was due certain benefits on the route I chose. I heard from the benefits officer in my annual conference.

But I never heard from my bishop, the man who is supposed to be my spiritual overseer. I even emailed him to share a bit of my journey to this decision to leave. Nothing. Not a polite “thank you.” Nothing. After 20+ years of living in what I was told was a sacred covenant I didn’t merit a single word. Nor did I hear from the committee on conference relations whose chair was supposed to sign my paperwork. I was supposed to meet with them to talk about my decision and my new status. Nothing here either. No one checked on me or my family to see how we were or if we needed spiritual or other support. Q

I had been – perhaps unintentionally although it’s difficult to think so – ghosted. I became an unperson. It was as if I didn’t exist and never had.

Something funny happened though. As little as I mattered to the institutional structures, it dawned on me that they were as unreal and unimportant to me as I was to them. My bishop, my conference relationship – they quickly became ghost-like, ethereal to me. What I thought was at the core of my identity turned out to be unimportant. I am not talking about my ministry or the real colleagues and friends I made along the way. But the structures and those who preside over them.

Ghosts in stories frighten and trouble us. The bishop’s ghost holds no fear for me. Only sadness. Perhaps that’s how ghosts feel when confronted by other ghosts. But I am learning anew what is real.

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On Not Fretting

I have been amazed over the years the number of times that things happening around me and in me come into sharp focus in a single verse from Scripture. It is God speaking – reaching out into chaos or hurt or confusion or doubt or whatever else. Like handwriting you recognize before you read the return address on an envelope. Or seeing the car of a beloved friend or family member in the driveway and know that one is here.

I began a Bible reading plan Friday morning and the first verse I read was Psalm 37:8:

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath;
    do not fret—it leads only to evil.

“Do not fret.” I had always thought of “fretting” as worrying. The word as used in the Bible is more akin to anger, frustration, and the like.

Last week Dana and I received some good news about a possible health issue. The relief was almost overwhelming. And then the rest of the week fell apart. A series of things about which I was concerned or that I had anticipated in a positive way all came undone on Friday. And I found it hard not to fret. I was so sure about several things and then in a few hours – nothing.

We humans, being made in the image of God, are prone to fret. We become frustrated and even angry because we are not the one whose image we hold inside. We cannot control circumstances. We have no real control over what other people – even well-meaning – do. We can hope, plan, pray, choose, direct and still not get where we thought we were going.

Maybe it IS more like God than we understand? God wills our good in every sense of the word. Yet how often is God’s will frustrated? Often I would guess. And sometimes by the very creatures – you and I – whom God wants to bless.

This morning (Saturday) it is the day after these frustrations and fretting all came to roost. I am seeking God’s gentle voice in learning how not to fret. To fret our way to evil is not what God intends whatever else may be true. Finding our way to God is. Things don’t always work out. They don’t always come to fruition in some other way.

Faith leads us not so much to a better future but to the One is our future. Hope too.

 

 

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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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