Monday, June 16, 2008

For while we were still weak

During the summer between my first and second years at the Episcopal Theological School (now the Episcopal Divinity School), I was a student chaplain at a state mental hospital. One day I was passing through a ward on my way to the ward to which I was assigned. I was walking quickly, chiefly because I was late, but also because I was aware that I was intruding on the living space of the ward's patients. Before I could make my way to the exit, a man approached and asked if God could forgive him. Not wanting to spend too much time in conversation, I asked him if he ever murdered anyone. He looked shocked and told me that, of course, he never. I replied that it was certain that God could forgive him, because God had forgiven Paul, who, at the very least, had conspired in the murders of the first Christain martyrs.

Paul understood the nature of sin and that it is in our human weakness that we fall under the power of sin. Paul knew that humans could not, by their own strength, escape from the power of sin. Having discovered for himself how God deals with sin and with sinners, Paul preached the Good News of forgiveness and reconciliation to Jew and Gentile alike.

Roman Catholic priest and theologian James Alison has suggested that the experience of the Resurrection for the disciples on the first Easter was the experience of being forgiven. All of them had, in one way or another, been unfaithful to Jesus - Peter in a very public way, but all of the rest in less public ways. When Jesus appeared to them, he didn't dress them down or chew them out for having failed him - something which most of us would do - but he simply said, "Peace be with you." Peace - the gift of being forgiven, the gift of being reconciled with Jesus, reconciled with God.

Alison has also suggested that God understands sin as that which can be forgiven. Far too many Christians think that God's attitude to sin is best reflected in the bumper sticker, "Jesus is coming back and he's pissed." But that certainly isn't the way that Jesus came either in his ministry or in his Resurrection. Jesus came with forgiveness and the power to transform us , and why should we expect that in his coming again it would be any different?

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The Death of the Adverb

I understand that the English language is changing and that it is foolish to think that we can speak and write as our parents and grandparents did. But I still fight against the death of the adverb in spoken English here in the US.

This morning I heard a student from one of the best high schools in the country say that she was "real excited" about volunteer work she was doing. Real excited, not really excited. Up until the past year or so, I thought that that kind of obvious mistake would mark the speaker as uneducated, but no longer.

Some would say, and rightly so, that there are different standards for written and spoken English. The problem is that over time spoken English influences written English, and influences it for the worse. The subjunctive is hardly ever used in spoken English and it is disappearing in written English. The transitive verb "to lay" is quickly displacing the intransitive verb "to lie," and were I to say, "I lie in the road," one might think that I meant that I was not telling the truth to a member of the Highway Patrol.

Compared to much else that is wrong today, these are, I admit , minor concerns. This is not, as my mother used to say, a ditch in which I am willing to die. I am willing, however, to resist this tide of change, to use adverbs gladly, to say "lie" when I mean "lie," and to say "If I were president" and not "If I was...."

Thursday, June 5, 2008

By Stages

And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb. (Genesis 12:9)

I recall standing in the driveway of our home when I was 10 waiting, but not at all patiently, for it to be time to go to the town fair. Fifty years on, I still struggle with my impatience. When I want something, I want it now.

But that's not the way important things happen in our lives. Like Abram, who "journeyed on by stages," we move towards life's important goals and events by stages, at times, it seems, by baby steps. A wise friend once told me that healing may come quickly, but growth takes time. God's promises may come to us in an instant, but the securing of those promises usually takes time.

Abram was promised that he would become a great nation, a nation that would in future generations be given a land in which to dwell. It was years before Abram and Sarai would have the son, Isaac, who was the promised heir, and it would be hundreds of years before the children of Israel would possess the land. When we read the story of Abram and Sarai in Genesis, we read of moments when Abram's faith in God wavered, when he seemed not at all sure that God would keep the promise. But in the end, Abram "believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness." (Romans 4:3)

This past weekend our son Matthew graduated from law school. He has a diploma and a job that will begin in September, but much of his time during the next two months will be spent preparing for the bar exams, and he expects that he would not be admitted to the bar before next February. Like so many graduates, Matthew will journey by stages towards his goal. Like so many graduates, he will have moments when we wishes that the goal could be achieved in an instant. And like his father before him, he may struggle with impatience. In the end, however, I believe that he will trust that God has called him and has been preparing him for this vocation , and he will travel by stages towards the realization of God's promise.