Quote of the Day – A Resolution

“The beginning of love is the will to let those we love be perfectly themselves, the resolution not to twist them to fit our own image. If in loving them we do not love what they are, but only their potential likeness to ourselves, then we do not love them: we only love the reflection of ourselves we find in them”
― Thomas Merton from “No Man Is An Island”

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For Anyone Recovering From the Suicide of a Loved One

May God bless and keep you in your time of overwhelming grief. I wanted to let you know that, whatever you may hear from elsewhere or think within your own heart, your loved one is not condemned or judged because of his/her actions.  If you believe the Bible, I can assure that there is absolutely nowhere in the text where suicide is condemned as some kind of unforgiveable sin, or as a sin at all.

Judas was strongly condemned by the various writers of the New Testament, but his condemnation was for his betrayal of Christ – not his response to that betrayal. In fact, in the Middle Eastern culture of the 1st century, suicide was an honorable act of self-punishment by one who had committed a crime or brought dishonor to one’s self or family.  In the Roman Empire, Roman citizens were granted the opportunity to commit suicide in place of execution, whereas crucifixion was reserved only for traitors against the state.

What I have learned over the years in working with families and with those who have attempted suicide is that those who consider it have reached a state of deep depression, despair, disconnection, trauma, or hysteria. Many who commit suicide do so from a self-conviction that the world will truly be a better place without them, although we know that is not true.  Just as the risen Christ reached out in love to Peter, who denied him three times, I have no doubt that Christ would have embraced Judas and welcomed him.  So does Christ embrace your loved one now, even as Christ embraces you in your sorrow.

Of course, you are asking questions like, “Why?” and “What could I or anyone else have done to prevent this?” The fact is that every day we decide whether to live or die. We take the choice of life for granted if we are blessed with mental health, but our barricades of emotional self-protection can be breached from without and within.  I believe that ultimately, when all the safety nets have failed, God is the one safety net that never fails us.   Suicide is an act of pain, not of evil, and Christ understands pain to a depth that we will never understand.

Whatever your belief may be, allow me to say a prayer for you, and may it comfort you this day and in the time to come:

Great and Infinite God, Source of Life both now and eternal, you have plumbed the depths of despair so deep that we cannot even imagine it. We raise up to you the spirit of this loved one, lost in the anguish of this world, but restored by an unconditional love beyond our understanding. Help us not to hear the judgments of others, but to remember, and embrace, the words of Jesus: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”  Amen.

A Prayer for the New Year

Almighty God, Author of Time;

As we stand before the gateway to a new year, we humbly pray for your mercy and eternal love. We cannot know what may lie ahead, but whatever may come, help us to be thankful in our blessings and faithful in our trials. In every moment of 2017, grant us the presence of your Holy Spirit, that we may practice compassion, fairness, understanding, and patience in the face of suffering and injustice.

Lord, lift our hearts in times of despair, and keep us ever mindful that we are called to live boldly as children of your wise purpose. In the name of your Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ, we pray,

Amen.

Friday Prayer

Christ our brother, as we journey into the weekend, grant us rest for our bodies and food for our souls.  Warm the hearths of our homes with the love of family and the laughter of friends, and grant us moments of worship, that You may know our gratitude for all of Your blessings. Amen.

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Morning Prayer

Lord of all Love, help me make this day Yours, and not mine.  No matter what may come in the moments of this day, let me glorify You and You alone, that my diminished self may be enfolded into Your divine and perfect purpose. Help me to find joy in the miracle of each breath, and peace in the knowledge that my life is shaped by Your hand. Amen.

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Thoughts for A Conflicted Congregation

In leaving the current congregation that I have been serving for the past six months as a First Responder, I wrote the following message for the December newsletter:

    This being my last message in the newsletter, I just wanted to express my thanks to God and my heartfelt appreciation for the opportunity to serve this wonderful congregation. I realized upon my arrival that my role and my purpose in coming here was misunderstood by many. “First Responder” ministry is relatively new in the church, although it is growing rapidly as more congregations discover themselves in the midst of conflict.

     If there is one thing I have learned about the Presbyterian Church in my years of service, it is that we are a mirror of our culture and our times.  We live in an era of great upheaval and change, although I must admit that from my earliest memories I cannot remember a time without change. However, our changing culture today is also characterized by deep animosity and mistrust, as people factionalize themselves. As a culture, we have almost become tribal as opposed to diverse, and these strong social influences are tearing at the fabric of all groups, both secular and spiritual.

     Yet, as the church of Jesus Christ we are commanded to be united by the Holy Spirit, even as the Spirit expresses the presence of God in a multitude of settings, languages, and practices. In these turbulent times, I keep remembering one phrase from the beatitudes that would help us to navigate these troubled waters: “Blessed are the peacemakers…” –  I think if there are any words that Christians should currently adopt as the heart of the gospel, it is this idea and practice.

      So this is the thought with which I will leave you as I head to the desert – “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  This congregation needs to embrace peacemaking among each other, and practice peacemaking for this community.  I have rarely been in a region where the needs are so great, especially as our communities enter a time where border issues are about to become prominent and possibly more divisive.  I think you are blessed to live in a wonderful community, and I think that opportunities for the ministry of this congregation are abundant, but we cannot heal others until we first heal ourselves.  Brokenness is not a curse, but a call to reclaim that which is essential and authentic. So it is that this congregation, in its brokenness and healing, has the obligation to find unity in purpose.

     That purpose is nothing more or less than the work of bringing the love of Jesus to those in pain, those in turmoil, and those who dwell on the boundaries and in the shadows of this community.   I have always believed that churches simply need to be too busy to fight with each other and, instead, fight for those who need the merciful love of God. As the church, we need to be mission-centered and spirit-driven, because the world needs us now more than ever.  This is my prayer for you.

     In return, I would covet your prayers for a wonderful start to my work in Tucson, and safe-keeping for myself, Amy, and Patti.  I look forward to visiting you in the future, but whatever may come, there is a brighter future ahead for all of us, and place of reunion beyond anything we can every imagine.  Until that endless day, may Christ keep you in his love always.

Mack

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Quote of the Day

“Christians should put survival of the planet ahead of national security…Here is the mystery of our global responsibility: that we are in communion with Christ- and we are in communion with all people…The fact that the people of Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Russia, Afghanistan, and Ethiopia are our brothers and sisters is not obvious. People kill each other by the thousands and do not see themselves as brothers and sisters. If we want to be real peace-makers, national security cannot be our primary concern. Our primary concern should be survival of humanity, the survival of the planet, and the health of all people. Whether we are Russians, Iraqis, Ethiopians, or North Americans, we belong to the same human family that God loves. And we have to start taking some risks- not just individually, but risks of a more global quality, risks to let other people develop their own independence, risks to share our wealth with others and invite refugees to our country, risks to offer sanctuary- because we are people of God…”
 Henri J.M. Nouwen (click for bio)

Nouwen died in 1996, but the relevancy of this quote for today is astonishing. The Dutch have always been some of the most courageous people on the planet. Look at their history to see this.