Echoes of 9-11

“Notwithstanding the beauty of this country of Faerie . . . there is much that is wrong in it. If there are great splendours, there are corresponding horrors; heights and depths, beautiful women and awful fiends; noble men and weaklings. All a man has to do is to better what he can.” 
George MacDonald, from Phantastes.

Horrors and splendor. That’s what we find in life. The horrors include bad things we do to each other and bad things that happen by chance. Yet, life also consists of splendors, God’s expression of beauty, His beauty within our hearts that sometimes comes out through our hands.

Splendor is often our response to horror.

On Tuesday, we mark 17 years since the 9/11 terrorist attacks that claimed nearly 3,000 lives in Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, and New York City.

It happened in my third year of teaching when I was overseeing a class of seventh and eighth-graders. A plane hit the first tower in New York City. The moment marked us all.

Over the last several years, the number of students who can remember the day has trickled to a drip and nearly stopped. Few young people who recall that day sit before me.

September 11, 2001, brought Americans wall to wall coverage of debris and devastation. There was the relief of joy and the devastation of loss. This person was saved. That one was gone.

Today, it is the fading event that echoes in our days, no longer shaping our times. Yet, we are different–sometimes missing the beauty of that day. Often missing the beauty of each other.

Forgetting the horror of the day means forgetting that there was beauty even in the loss. The heroes of Flight 93 challenged horror when it looked them in the eye. They said no. We felt horror at their deaths but beauty in their heroism.

President George W. Bush reminded us that “One of the lessons of 9-11 is that evil is real and so is courage.”

Horror happens at the hands of people who choose to bring it. And, as I’ve mentioned, it comes by chance as well–a different form of fiend. We can’t know why this person didn’t come home at the end of an otherwise ordinary day and that one did.

But we can marvel at those who fight the fiends of evil and chance still today.

This week, we remember the horror and celebrate the beautiful heroes. We celebrate the heroes of today–soldiers, police officers, firefighters, and caregivers. We mark the beauty of those who strive to better what they can. 

May all of us find a way to count ourselves, somehow, among the beautiful. We can work to see the beautiful. And make better what we can.

To grant those who mourn in Zion, Giving them a garland instead of ashes, The oil of gladness instead of mourning, The mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting. So they will be called oaks of righteousness, The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3~


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Endorsements for Restoring the Shattered

Nancy Head’s Restoring the Shattered leads the reader through a compelling and emotional story of the life of a woman who has experienced the best and worst moments of the modern-day church. At the same time, Nancy artfully weaves the surprisingly fascinating history of the church’s theology and its politics in a way that will challenge all of us to walk worthy of our calling.

—Bob Gresh, husband of best-selling author Dannah Gresh (nearly half a million books sold)

In Restoring the Shattered, Nancy’s account of her life experience, intertwined with historic events and lessons from faith leaders of many disciplines, mirrors the personal problems and societal tensions present in the Christian church. Ironically, as the Reverend Billy Graham came to Altoona in 1949 and found discourse in the church strained enough to test his commitment to evangelism, Nancy sees the same discourse today stretching well beyond the city limits of her hometown. Fortunately, through faith and determination, the difficult times strengthened Billy’s and Nancy’s resolve and both were better equipped to encourage others in their journey with Christ.

—Pennsylvania State Senator John H. Eichelberger, Jr.

Since the beginning of Christendom, believers have not only engaged in the discussion of difference versus agreement on the doctrines we find within the Bible but have often found themselves participating in the nature of disagreement that brings hurt to individuals and to the church. In her book Restoring the Shattered, Nancy sensitively traces the history of division and encourages the church to focus on those doctrines that bring both harmony and light. She does this through sharing her struggles of separation within her own family and uses the images of shattered glass to illustrate our brokenness. It is a subject that we should not neglect and one that will benefit the church and individuals.

—Stella Price, author of Chosen for Choson (Korea) and God’s Collaborator

When I met Nancy, she served a university-appointed role as a mentor-teacher to me. She gave every impression of a whole person, a great look for a mentor to have. But like all of us, the external appearance of perfection exists only on the surface. Yet Nancy does have an internal assurance of completion—one which comes from our Savior, Jesus Christ. Restoring the Shattered offers readers a chance to examine breaks on every layer to see the combined work of restoration on which Nancy and Christ have embarked and offers hope and advice for those who wish to traverse that same path with him.

—Reverend Adam Shellenbarger, pastor, Joppatown Christian Church, Joppatown, Maryland

Restoring the Shattered is a wonderful first-person perspective of a person on the path of Christianity. It shows the commonality of Christian beliefs that can be shared in our confusing world.

—George Foster, businessman and lay Catholic

I’m a pastor who Nancy gets to hear all the time. It’s been a joy and a privilege to read her and hear what she has to say. She is the real deal! Her passion and insight come through in everything she does, including in her book Restoring the Shattered. This is a joy to read, and it can help you on your life’s journey.

—Reverend John Collins, First Church of Christ, Altoona, Pennsylvania

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Paperbacks available later this month. E-version available October 5. 

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the authors.

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Beyond a Path of Suffering

“God’s ways are at times like heavy wagon tracks that cut deep into our souls, yet all of them are merciful.” ― Charles Haddon SpurgeonGrace God’s Unmerited Favor*


Sometimes life takes an unexpected turn. Something bad happens. And the landscape of our story changes completely. We have a new perspective, a new direction. A bad thing works for good that we did not foresee.


I have a friend who worked in an ice cream truck when he was 17 years old. That seems like a job that would have few challenges. But one day, he was robbed and beaten. The event changed the trajectory of his life.


He became a career prosecutor. He devotes his life’s work to pursuing justice for those who are robbed, beaten, cheated, or worse.


A neighbor’s grandchild was born with serious handicaps. He and his parents faced challenges most of us cannot imagine. But two of his aunts found inspiration and, because of him, became therapists.


A former student’s younger sibling was born with a genetic disorder. This student is in medical school studying to become a geneticist. She may change the life trajectory of others who suffer from similar conditions.
 
We Christians love to quote Romans 8:28–“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”


But we sometimes neglect the following verse: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.” We are creations still in the shaping process–being conformed to the image of Christ.


Most of us can look back and clearly see our turning points. We can realize now that we found our path because life changed one day. Unexpected. Unpredictable. Even unpleasant and painful.


But never without purpose.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Finding the Way

He stops me in the hallway at work–my former teacher, now a colleague. He’s been studying Greek because, he says, teachers should always remember how hard it is to learn something difficult.


“Where in the Bible does Jesus say, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”?


“John 14, I think.”


He is especially interested in the word way, not sure if the English translation comes from methodos or hodos. The conversation sparks my own investigation. I’m glad the terms I look up are easy to understand (always a plus when dealing with Greek).


Methodos means a way of searching–inquiry. That meaning is secondary, but it’s the one my colleague mentioned. Methodos also means scheming, craftiness, and deceit. Strong’s Concordance finds it twice in Ephesians (4:14 and 6:11). Scriptures that warn us first of the cunning craftiness of men, then to beware the wiles of the devil.


But Jesus does not use methodos in John 14:6. He uses hodos.

Like methodoshodos has different connotations. “It can mean not only a road, a path, but also a practice.” So it is not only the way to go, the direction we take, it is also how we walk, how we encounter God and others through our lives.


Jesus is not a means of inquiry. He is the way to God. And He gives direction for our lives.


Before His followers were called Christians (Act 11:26), they were called the people of the Way. In Acts 9:2, the people “belonging to the Way”–hodos–were those Saul hoped to persecute as he made his way along the road to Damascus. Being called a follower of the Way was descriptive. Being called a Christian was an insult.


They stood out among the crowd. Some didn’t like that.


My colleague also wondered about the root of the word Methodism. Methodism’s founder John Wesley was well versed in Greek. Had Wesley intended to associate his view of the Christian life with methodos–a way of inquiry?


We were both surprised by what he discovered.


The name Methodism came in derision–just as the name Christian had in the early Church. John and Charles Wesley’s fellow students at Oxford called them Methodists because they were methodical in their spiritual discipline and their ministry efforts.


They stood out among the crowd.


John Wesley once said, “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.”


Wesley knew that to follow the Way was not the easy way

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Wesley, like Luther before him, did not set out to establish a new church. Luther wanted to reform Catholicism. Wesley wanted to reform the Church of England. In fact, Methodism did not even become its own denomination until it arrived in America.


In England and America, Methodism planted churches and encouraged moral living, literacy, and philanthropy. Wesley encouraged William Wilberforce in the fight against slavery. Wesley advocated prison reform. He urged Christians not to simply collect and send goods to relieve the misery of the poor, but to go to the poor individually, each Christian engaging in personal ministry.
 
When He walked this earth, Jesus invited people to follow him. Wesley didn’t invite people to follow Methodism. He invited people to follow Christ.


Strong’s Concordance renders truth (aletheia) in John 14:6 as reality. It renders life (zoe) as life that includes both the “physical (present) and . . . spiritual (particularly future) existence.”


The Way, Truth, and Life invites us to a path that leads to reality for eternity.


And there is no other hodos.


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Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Revised and reposed from April 2016

Waiting for Harvest: Opening the Gifts Within Us

Those who walk the fields to sow, casting their seed in tears,
will one day tread those same long rows, amazed by what’s appeared.
Those who weep as they walk and plant with sighs
Will return singing with joy, when they bring home the harvest.
Psalm 126: 5-6.


“Will he play ball too?” my brother asks a woman cradling an infant at the youth baseball field.


“We’ll have to see what gifts are inside of him,” she smiles.


He’s a few years from sliding home at a ballfield. But his mama is open to other possibilities. Music perhaps, art or scholarship. Her tiny boy is a bundle of unwrapped gifts waiting to open themselves to the world.
Her joy in his possibilities glows from her eyes. And she knows the one who gave the gifts. She sees His reflection in the child–imago Dei, the image of God.


No matter how old we get we are each a bundle of gifts waiting to unwrap themselves to the world. Some gifts show themselves early. Some gifts get stunted and never open.


Some blossom late and surprise us with a shock of color, motion, words.
The pain of birth brings a new bundle of gifts. But it takes the hurts of life to pull open latent gifts, unimagined qualities that, without seeding tears, would not open.


Sometimes we see a bundle but do not recognize the gifts. We assume there is nothing to open, nothing to give. But these bundles have wonderful gifts. They show us meaning in simplicity. Imago Dei again.


If we can see these bundles as gift bearers, they will teach us to open more of ourselves. They bestow their gifts and increase the harvest of our own.
We are imago Dei. Each of us a bundle of gifts that spends a lifetime opening. Seed tears plant crops that bring joy as the gifts come to harvest.
Wise eyes see the beauty in a tiny bundle whose gifts do not yet show.


Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

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Reposted from August 2016

On Writing a Second Book

It began as an assignment for my granddaughter when she was in third grade. She is now a seventh grader. 

Writing a book is a process.

She was supposed to write 100 words and grace her pages with artwork. From her hand-written pages, I typed. Then she drew.

A little girl collected buttons and had a favorite that she had misplaced. She searched and searched, and searched some more–and found it! That was her story.

She put her finished work in a binder decorated with buttons. She earned a very good grade.

And I said, “I think you have something here. Let’s keep going.”

So we worked to understand the girl. Why was the button important? What did the girl look like? What did she like? Who was her family? Who were her friends?

We switched from third person (she) to first person (I). We developed a reason the button was important. We added family, friends, dialogue, description, repeating symbolism, and motives.

I thought we had a picture book, so I shared it with an author/friend. She said, “It’s not a picture book. It’s a chapter book. Keep working.” 

So we did.

Writing a book is a process.

We shifted from the perspective of the little girl to the viewpoint of one of the previously peripheral characters–a boy–the new kid in town.

We drew in a team of helpers–her brother and some of their cousins. There were times that some of us met in a very professional manner discussing the story and deciding how to enhance it. 

There were times we talked about it less formally, in the car or at a family gathering.

Sometimes, I wrote alone. One day, I typed as a grandson and I developed a chapter. 

Now, we have more than 12,000 words. And so begins the process of cutting fat that may weigh it down and slow its journey to print and perhaps adding flesh and blood where the text is dry bone.

And then there will be the process of asking others to look at it. Will it float and fly? Or will our labors continue?

Wordcraft can be a process in which we grow along with our characters, a process that weaves bonds by telling stories real and imagined.

William Faulkner said writing is “agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before.”

We’ve made a piece of work that did not exist before. Something from our human spirits. And in that process, we’ve explored characters and human character and tightened the bonds between us. 

Writing a book is a wonderful process. 

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Photo Credit: Pixabay

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tilling Good Ground

As a college junior, she was a latecomer to my freshman English class. The subject of our discussion was the 2001 book Peace like a River by Leif Enger. Filled with allusions to the Bible, historic events, and Zane Grey westerns, the book has plenty of fodder for discussion in a college-level class.

What caught this particular student’s eye was a line that repeats throughout the text as the narrator/main character, an 11 year old boy, advises the reader to “make of it what you will.” The it he refers to is Christian faith, faith in the miraculous works that come only from God. The narrator isn’t pushy about faith. He simply unfolds the miracles and invites the reader to draw his own conclusions.

My student found that very appealing. She explained that she had rejected faith because it had always been a source of contention in her home. Her father had come from one denomination, her mother from another. They had never been able to find the peace that Christ offers and Enger depicts.

My experience growing up as the product of a ‘mixed marriage’ was quite different. Continue reading “Tilling Good Ground”

Of Mice and Men and Unborn Children

The US government is using tax dollars to purchase the remains of unborn children for experiments also involving mice according to Terence P. Jeffrey.

The body parts must be “fresh” so FDA experimenters can inject the parts into mice to give the rodents a human immune system.

The $15,900 contract runs until nearly the end of July 2019.

Jeffrey writes:

“Because it would not be able to create its ‘humanized mice’ without fresh tissue taken from aborted babies, the FDA also has an interest in the continuation of legalized abortions at a stage in fetal development when the tissue needed to create these mice can be retrieved from the aborted baby.”

It’s hard not to be cynical here. Continue reading “Of Mice and Men and Unborn Children”

The Lost Art of Craft

“We’re increasingly constrained by computers and a pixelated abridgement of reality that serves only to make us blind to the truly infinite complexity of the nature world. Most critically, our physical movements have been almost entirely removed as a factor in our own existence. Now all we seem to do is press buttons.” Alexander Langlands (review by Gracy Olmstead)

My friend and I were at the fabric store–a place we haunt when we don’t go to a coffee house for tea. Our meeting places most often involve tea and/or fabric and sometimes food, over which we discuss our lives–husbands, kids, grandkids, other friends (in a non-gossipy way), current events–and our perceptions of the workings of God in our circumference.

Sometimes we even discuss our crafting–and what it means to us.

Pieces of us stitched together to pass along to others or enjoy ourselves.

Crafting takes time. Investing time in a project teaches us diligence and patience. There is no such thing as instant gratification when you are handcrafting something.

Time and craft add meaning to the final products.

And time, craft, and meaning add value–to a point of pricelessness–for something handcrafted matches nothing else. It is unique, the only one of its kind.

In his book, Langlands quotes a definition of craft (from the ancient term craeft)–“the organizing principle of the individual’s capacity to follow a moral and mental life.”

To craft is to contemplate–to plan and work the plan. And the contemplative life, Aristotle said, is the only kind of life that can be happy.

As Olmstead asserts in her review of Langlands’ book Craeft: An Inquiry into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts (now on my Goodreads’ “to read” list) balance is the key today. It’s what Aristotle called the Golden Mean–the balance of a virtue between its excess and its deficiency.

From Olmstead’s review: “Langlands argues for a revival of cræft throughout this book, as a response to the toll that industrialization and consumptive living has taken on our world. Who knows whether slower, more laborious rituals will become a godsend to our broken world in future years?”

Who knows? One does. And godsend? Indeed.

The ultimate Crafter/Creator who gave us time, thought, and art.

Slow, laborious work can be a rite of contemplation as we ponder him and his power to make beauty through work. As we see our work become beautiful over time. As we see ourselves as his image–imago Dei. And as we find ourselves anew by emulating his creative ways.

Here’s to time spent happily crafting.

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Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way, do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, and you credit the author.

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I have not received any compensation for writing this post. I have no material connection to the entities I have mentioned. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Night and Day

“Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light.  God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.  God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” Genesis 1: 3b-5~

Evening and morning–the first day. That was how God measured days. We flip it around. In our minds, our days begin with dawn and end with sunset.

In that change, we show our preference for daylight. And we show it in other ways as well. Our brightly lit streets are illuminated to a degree far beyond our need to have a well-lit pathway. Our cities glow and flicker as business interests compete for our attention. We are like moths, and like moths, we find artificial light more attractive than natural light. And the more light we have the more we want–as in addiction.

In The End of Night, Paul Bogard takes a secular look at our desire for more and brighter light.

“As our surroundings grow brighter, we grow used to that level of brightness, and so anything dimmer seems extraordinarily dim, even dark. This is exactly what happened as artificial lighting developed through the ages. The once glorious oil lamps became dim and disgusting with the advent of wonderful gas lighting, which then became smelly and awful and unbearably dim the moment we saw electric light. . . . [O]nce our eyes get used to seeing brighter lights, we must have brighter lights.” Continue reading “Night and Day”