The Substance of Faith

The Substance of Faith

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Living in the Age of Rage

On Sunday, June 16, my sermon was about living in an age of anger. Many people identified with my assessments of our culture.

Based on theses responses, I’m providing some  general quotes on anger, followed by Ronald Rolheiser’s 3 characteristics of “honest”  anger – anger that does not cross the line to sin.

From Daniel Goleman, in Emotional Intelligence:

Quoting Aristotle, “Anyone can become angry.  That is easy.  But to be angry with the right person to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way, this is not easy. [p. IX]

 The testiness of our society can be seen in the shift from saying to one another, “Have a nice day,” to “Make my day. [p. XI].

Being prone to anger is a stronger predictor of dying young than are habits of smoking, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. [p. 170]

From Kathleen Norris in The Cloister Walk:

Quoting John Climacus:  “If it is true that the Holy Spirit is peace of soul, and if anger is disturbance of the heart, then there is no greater obstacle to the presence of the spirit in us, than anger. p. 137

anger 1

In an effort to understand how anger might be an appropriate response to events in our lives,  people often ask about Jesus driving the money changers out of the temple.  Wasn’t Jesus angry?  And Paul adds “Be angry, but sin not” (Ephesians 4:26).  From these two biblical references, can’t we assume that some anger is not sin?  Can’t we assume that some anger is appropriate?  Clearly the answer is yes.  But I’d point you back to the Aristotle quote above.  Appropriate anger is a balancing act of character and spiritual discipline.

Ronald Rolheiser, in   Against An Infinite Horizon,  gives us three characteristics of “honest anger”(appropriate, Christian anger that does not cross the line to sin).   He says that honest anger:

1. Does not distort – It has no need to resort to “always/never” language to make its point.  It doesn’t need to spin the story to justify itself.  And it does ot need to lie to gain sympathy.

If we are all honest, our worst angers tempt us to do each of these things.  Honest anger resists them if so tempted.

2.  Does not rage – Using the cleansing of the temple as our example, Jesus was not trying to destroy anyone;, rather, his basic motive was to restore worship as it should be.  Honest anger may create a temporary disturbance, but it is for the purpose of justice, restoration, or reconciliation. Honest anger wants to make things right.

Rage wants to break something, hurt someone, or retaliate for an injury done.  Rage’s primary motive is to hurt.

3.  Has a time limit – Paul says don’t let the sun go down on our anger.  A primary example of the Holy Spirit working in our lives is self control.   Rage controls us.  Honest anger, however, can be limited by self control and submitting to the Holy Spirit.  Anger that does not respond to our desire to stop, must be sinful.  (pp. 168-170)

Consequently, can we be angry and “sin not?’  Can our anger be righteous indignation and, therefore, NOT sin?  The answer to both questions is “yes.”  But don’t expect it to be easy.  Don’t expect to be able to rationalize all your personal anger as “honest.”

Perhaps these summary thoughts can help in spiritual discipline or preparation to teach or preach about anger.


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Morning Prayer – June 23, 213

I had several comments on this prayer, so here it is:

Save us, Father, from the place we have come to in our  lives.  We look around and know this is not where you meant us to be.  But how can we return unless you reach out and draw us close by the power of your strong arm?  We confess that we never intended for one day’s anger to develop into a lifetime of hate.  We never intended for for one day’s resentment to turn into envy as a way of life.  But, here we are, Father.  Far from people we love, far from  being the kind of individuals we hoped to be.  Far from You.

Rescue us today.  Place an irresistible  moment in our lives so that we can no longer continue on the paths of our own choosing.  Call to us today with an undeniable voice that bids us to turn and be healed.

My this day not end until we have responded to your call.  May the sun not set this very evening without us finding ourselves at home again – at rest in your shadow – at peace in your everlasting arms.

In the name of the Great Shepherd we pray, even Jesus Christ our Lord.


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Sexual Assault Training

Why is this story important?   Check out the 1:00 mark in the video.

The young woman at 1:00 is the base runner in the first picture of the Sports and Character post. Twenty years later, of course.

We’re proud of Rachel’s efforts to make this program happen at her hospital.

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TV with Rocky

Rocky is half Yorkie and half something else.  His coloring is from the Yorkie side, but his coat is tight and compact from the unknown branch of the family tree.  If you put a leather vest and cap on him, he would look like an Ewok from The Empire Strikes Back.  My wife wanted to try it just to see, but I put my foot down.   His personality is all terrier.   He’s stubborn, territorial, and fearless, particularly when he watches television.

Our old Springer Spaniel never paid attention to the TV, but Rocky watches it all the time.  He recognizes and dislikes football.  He also recognizes characters and commercial jingles.  We know because he dislikes horses, cows, cats, and other dogs.  He attacks the screen when they appear.  If he is in another room when he hears the music from a particular furniture commercial he comes running to attack the TV because one of their spots had a puppy in it.

Since Rocky came to live with us after my father-in-law passed away, our TV habits have changed.  Fortunately his dislike of football expresses itself in TV-aversion: he goes into hiding, under the bed or in the closet as soon as he hears crowd noise.  I can still watch The SEC on CBS, or he might have had to find another home.  In fact, I agree with Rocky about Georgia, Tennessee, and Mississippi State football.  He dislikes their mascots.  I dislike them as rivals.  Uga drives him wild.  Sic ‘em, Rocky.

Gone from our viewing, however, is the annual Westminster Kennel Club Show.  I miss hearing the club announcer say, “This is Bichon Frise number four.” Perhaps Rocky is angry that WKC does not recognize Ewoks as a registered breed.  Gone also are western movies, particularly the ones about cattle drives.  Horses and cows together are a very bad combination.  This means no more John Wayne movies or reruns of a young Clint Eastwood on Wagon Train.

Rocky’s greatest dislike on TV, however, is the AFLAC duck.  I find the voice annoying, but I can live with it.  Rocky, on the other hand, barks long after the duck leaves the screen.   He even recognizes some of the dialog in AFLAC commercials, barking before the duck ever appears.

I mentioned Rocky’s prejudice in a sermon and Dan Colwell,  a local AFLAC agent, gave me a stuffed duck that said the company name when squeezed.  Notice the past tense because Rocky killed that duck.  Like our old Springer killed a baby bunny, Rocky shook the duck to death – or at least until he broke its voice box and the stuffing came out.  If you’ve ever seen a retriever that can’t stop chasing a ball, you have an idea what Rocky was like with the stuffed duck.  He couldn’t stop.  When he couldn’t bite the duck the right way to make it speak, he would put it in his mouth and run it into the wall.  Once he got it to say “AFLAC” he started shaking it again.  I told Dan about the death of our duck and Rocky is now killing his second duck.  Thanks, Dan.  The only way to make Rocky stop is to hide the duck.  A stuffed animal that has spent a long time in a dog’s jaws of death is a nasty toy to pick up with your bare hands.  You may have guessed that Rocky’s least favorite favorite moment in college football is the AFLAC Trivia Question, which brings him out from under the bed every time.

Rocky also dislikes the Chick-fil-A cows. If you’ve seen the commercial with the cow in an office building, Rocky recognizes the elevator “ding” and comes running to the TV before the cow moos.  His fearless defense of our home must work because we have no cows at our house, although five walked down our street a few weeks ago.  No fooling.  They walked into our neighborhood and passed our house.  I have pictures.  Good, dog.

Neighborhood cows never came near our house

Neighborhood cows never came near our house

We tried replacing the stuffed duck with a stuffed cow after going to the Kick-Off Classic last year, but Rocky wasn’t interested. Nothing is as satisfying to him as shaking the duck.

This month my wife is taking a girls’ weekend with some friends.  Rocky may get a vacation to the kennel, courtesy of me, while she’s gone.  I want to finish watching True Grit that I recorded months ago.  It was sponsored by AFLAC.

 This story appears in the “Our Town” section of the June 15 edition of the Rome News-Tribune

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The Language of a People is Its Fate – Part Two – Missing Words

In Part One of this post, I quoted Amos Wilder’s observation that “The language of a people is its fate.”  What we say and how we say it shapes our lives.  Part One looked at the growing acceptance on profanity and the lack of civility it breeds.   Profanity (language) shapes our fate (growing disrespect).  Perhaps you’d expect a puritanical view from a minister.  But let me say that I am more concerned about the vocabulary that is now MIA in our culture than I am about profanity.

In 1992, William Kilpatrick wrote a great book entitled  Why Johnny Can’t Tell Right from Wrong.   Hear what he says:

(An) incident happened five or six years ago during an exam.  One of the questions concerned sex education and contained the word “abstinence.”  It was a poor choice of words.  In a few minutes a student came up to my desk.  “What’s abstinence?” she asked.  I thought for a moment, then said, “Oh, just substitute the word ‘chastity.’”  There was a brief pause, then . . . “What’s chastity?” she asked.

I mentioned the incident the next semester to another class, thinking that it might amuse them, but I was wrong again.  Half of them had never heard of “chastity” either.  I was reminded of Orwell’s observation about the difficulty of practicing a virtue or principle when one lacks the very words for expressing it.  (p. 118)

How does a Christian celebrate the sacredness of sex – how does a Christian family pass along their convictions about sex – when the culture lacks a vocabulary to support the conversation?  Language contains a culture’s values.  It communicates a culture’s experience of reality.  How far is it from never speaking about chastity (to use the example cited above), and the practice of chastity disappearing from our society?  If the words don’t exist (or simply aren’t spoken) can the virtue be passed along?   How many times in the past month have your children heard about divorce or separation?  Now compare that number to how may times someone as spoken about fidelity and commitment in their presence.  Which is the stronger “reality” in their lives?  Things spoken of often are real; things never mentioned don’t exist.  Language is their fate.

What about the vocabulary of faith?  Compare the number of times your children have heard profanity to the number of times they’ve heard anyone outside your home speak of grace or forgiveness.   The deep, basic words of our faith are not used often on the news, on FaceBook, nor are they tweeted.  Therefore, if children are not involved in intentional faith development, will they ever hear enough of  a faith vocabulary to understand the experience?

Once upon a time, the culture around us used a common language that instilled and reinforced virtue and faith.  Not so anymore.  Families must be more intentional than ever to use language that speaks of character and faith.  Participation in faith communities where other families use a common vocabulary helps reinforce convictions and experiences that come from our faith in Christ.

I don’t advocate only having contact with people who believe exactly was we do.  This post is not about separation from the world. It is simply a call for us to recognize that children can’t believe in something they never hear about.  Words rarely heard cannot form deep convictions.  Language is the fate of a people – and their faith.



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The Language of a People is Its Fate – Part One

“The language of a people is its fate.” So says Amos Wilder in Early Christian Rhetoric.  This quotation has bothered me for years.  Maybe, virtues determine the fate of a people.  Perhaps government, or economy, or faith. But, language?  How so?

In order to understand Wilder’s comment, let’s look at a few examples.  The French protect their language in order to protect their culture.  When too many foreign expressions enter the French language, it waters down their cultural identify.  So the French ban the expressions before they become rooted in their language.  The agency charged with monitoring the language has banned expressions like email, hashtag, and FaceBook.

Comment est-ce de travailler pour vous? If Google Translator is working correctly, that means “How’s that working for you?”

Americans think the French are silly until we admit growing resentment among many in the USA over Federal workplace guidelines posted by the water cooler, billboards, or DMV tests – in Spanish!  “Make them learn English” is the mantra.  What is the problem, unless, instinctively, we understand that our language is our fate and perceive changes in our language as a threat?

How does this dynamic play out in daily life?  How does it affect me?  The first place may be profanity.  Baby Boomers think they pioneered the anti-puritan movement when Archie Bunker started using four-letter words on All in the Family.  That Archie was a hoot.  Over the next four decades, we were amazed at what people could say on TV.  George Carlin’s list of banned words was no longer prohibited. (Note: Younger readers can search any of these historical references. The fact you don’t know about them makes my point: times have changed and what can be said on television was once a very big deal, but not today.)

Now anybody can say anything at anytime.  Ask a teacher.  The S-word, both B-words and combination words are commonplace in the classroom as children bring to school the language they hear at home.  And this is not happening only in public schools or among children of poverty.  An informal sampling of teachers and other school workers would indicate it is more common in certain areas, but profanity exists everywhere.  Children hear it at home and on television as the normative way people talk to each other.  One child of a middle class family dropped the F-bomb in casual conversation – just as natural as you please.  Aghast, the mother asked, “Where did you hear that word?”

“From you,” was the child’s response.

Remember, “The language of a people is its fate.”  The problem is not simply bad words at home and at school.  Profanity is a primary vehicle that brings disrespect, anger, and hostility into our lives.  Try to imagine using profanity in a kind, civil way.  Go to an SEC football game and try to ask fans around you to be considerate of your family with their language.  Even if you wear the same colors and cheer for the same team, you will likely hear that they paid their money and have the right to say anything they want.

I know I sound like a prude, and I accept that I am swimming upstream against the culture on this subject.  The prevalence and acceptance of profanity, however, has altered the way people treat each other.  Society is less civil than it was a few decades ago.  Our language has become our destiny.

End of Part One.

Check back for Part Two – on the words missing from our language.

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