The Swimming That Is Drowning – William Ralph Inge

“Worry is the interest paid on Trouble before it comes due.”

GOD is nameless, for no man can either say or understand aught about Him. If I say, God is good, it is not true; nay more; I am good, God is not good. I may even say, I am better than God; for whatever is good, may become better, and whatever may become better, may become best. Now God is not good, for He cannot become better. And if He cannot become better, He cannot become best, for these three things, good, better, and best, are far from God, since He is above all. If I also say, God is wise, it is not true; I am wiser than He. If I also say, God is a Being, it is not true; He is transcendent Being and superessential Nothingness. Concerning this St Augustine says: the best thing that man can say about God is to be able to be silent about Him, from the wisdom of his inner judgement. Therefore be silent and prate not about God, for whenever thou dost prate about God, thou liest, and committest sin. If thou wilt be without sin, prate not about God. Thou canst understand nought about God, for He is above all understanding. A master saith: If I had a God whom I could understand, I would never hold Him to be God. (318) God is not only a Father of all good things, as being their First Cause and Creator, but He is also their Mother, since He remains with the creatures which have from Him their being and existence, and maintains them continually in their being. If God did not abide with and in the creatures, they must necessarily have fallen back, so soon as they were created, into the nothingness out of which they were created. (610) (Light, Life, and Love)

https://ccel.org/ccel/inge/light/light

When I am visiting with folks about their prayer life, I find that often I am visiting with them about finding a way to “let go of the side of the pool.” Reminiscent of that first experience that many of us remember of learning to swim, when we perhaps thought we were drowning. At times, in my walk with God, that has been the case. Reading and thinking about “the case,” having opinions about “the case,” even offering advice about “the case” of the soul in search of, swimming toward, God, and yet still knowing that some of the time I too am drowning while learning to swim. Reading and reflecting about prayer and communion with the living God is something different than praying itself. In some sense we are all learning to swim, as we are learning to pray. It is one thing to think about swimming while standing on the side of the pool – it is another thing to pray while we are in the midst of the water and believe that we might actually drown.

But alas, miracle of miracles, as we fumble in the water we find that we are not sinking; and not only are we not sinking, we are beginning to move.

I find consolation in the work of William Ralph Inge because he was the possessor of an incredibile mind, and he did not use that gift as a means of relativising the surrender that must be made to God, to prayer, and to the unknowable frontiers that are consonant with a Deity who has made us and is expecting our return. I find that my own prayers are most real when I am invited to the “trust fall” of powerlessness; only to find that as I am falling, drowning, that is when the Good Shepherd comes very gently to encourage me to learn how to swim.

Stretching the metaphor – I find that Inge most often uses his intellect to find the higher diving board into this pool, this ocean, that is the Deity, we enter when we are actually in a state of prayer. Rather than use his gifts to maintain a “death grip” upon the side of the pool, Inge intuitively seems to know that all water – prayer – leads to the ocean, and that is where his mind and heart are set for the voyage. For some of us, the deeper that we move into that ocean of God’s presence, there can be fewer and fewer substitutes. It is no longer a matter of managing a desire, a curiosity, an avocation of religion, worship, and “spirituality.” The eternal and overwhelming beauty and holiness of the divine will not be managed; if we are to know God, we are Abraham looking into a night sky, we are Elijah finding the thunder of the cosmos in a “still small voice,” we are John finding that the “wind bloweth where it listeth and ye know not from whence it cometh.” Essentially, those who find that the bush is sometimes burning, are left with no place to turn or to reach, except to “let go the side of the pool,” and then swim as though we are drowning into the depths of an overwhelming beauty and love.

If you have read this far . . . thank you . . . Blessings and Godspeed.

Risking That Less Is More

32 They were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. He took the twelve aside again and began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33saying, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; 34they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him; and after three days he will rise again.’

It is important that we read these verses today.  They sit just above what we have just read from Mark.  It is important to notice this contrast.

“They will mock, spit upon, flog, kill him – and then he will rise.”  However, in the very next sentence we hear, “teacher we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

At this point in Mark’s Gospel Jesus is literally becoming the tip of the spear.  Jesus is leading the disciples from Lake Region of Galilee to Jerusalem, and as they travel Jesus occasionally explains to them what will happen in the days to come.

And now, after his third and final foreshadowing of the horrific events of the Passion as spoken from Jesus’ own mouth, we hear, “allow us to sit on your right and your left in your glory.”  James and John are revealing their “grasping” tendencies, and their need to see themselves at the center of things.

Given the Ten Disciples grow angry with James and John, it begs the question, have James and John actually heard anything that Jesus has been saying?  Perhaps James and John have been too distracted with the importance of their own roles in what is unfolding around them.  Perhaps they have been editing, filtering, what has been said; hearing only what they want to hear.  Hoping for an eventual conclusion that will mark their own significant contributions and signatures to the Gospel project.

Scholar NT Wright points out “the reason James and John misunderstand Jesus is exactly the same as the reason why many subsequent thinkers, down to our own day, are desperate to find a way of having Jesus without having the cross as well: the cross calls into question all human pride and glory.”

Some scholars have speculated that James and John are innocents; they simply don’t know what they don’t know.  They find themselves after so many miles, so many moments, so much experience, still standing high on a precipice of ignorance, about to take a trust fall into reality. 

When Jesus fails to give James and John that which they seek, there must have been something about Jesus that would compel them to continue following him.  They do not get what they want, their friends are angry with them, yet James and John do not abandon the project of following Jesus.  I believe there is a doorway here for our lives.

James and John have reasons to abandon the Gospel project; however, they do not abandon it.  In the midst of not receiving the particulars for which they are hoping, seats on the right and the left, James and John continue following Jesus; they follow knowing that their agendas will not be met.

Honestly, where in our lives, or how many of us, will follow anyone blindly especially if our agendas are not going to be guaranteed in the prospect?  Yet this is what happens when Jesus becomes mixed up in people’s lives, their motives, their agendas.  That which seemed impossible is possible; that which seemed necessary and needful is brushed aside and replaced by something previously unimaginable.

James and John are living through a transformation; the same transformation that takes place in any life that will be given to Christ.  We come to Jesus with an expectation, an agenda, that we assume is licit and within reason; perhaps it is fashioned on the notion that serving Christ should somehow “shore-up” the good reputation and prominence, the esteem, with which we are regarded both in the Church and the culture.

I believe that anyone following the risen and living Christ will find themselves challenged in that approach.  The longer we follow, the more we learn, generally our expectations are challenged and we find that we too must accept a transformation.   Over time, or perhaps in a moment, we realize that to be a follower of Jesus is not to simply make one’s own journey through life, with God included as an addendum.  Actually, it is the other way round.

CS Lewis, “Human History is simply the long terrible story of a person trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”

In those places, especially the community of faith, where we would appoint ourselves as leaders, we are called to be servants one to another; surrendering that cherished right and left seat to someone else.  Giving up the preferable seat; giving up the agenda to which we have attached our expectations of others, and discovering God’s agenda for us as we seek to become more Christ-like, more servant-like, in our lives.  The promise is that as we become “less” of something in our own eyes, we will become “more” in the eyes of God; a transformation wherein lay our ultimate joy and peace.

There is a freedom in no longer holding God, and others, hostage with our expectations and agendas; it is the freedom of laboring without carrying the weight of our own world on our backs.  It is the freedom of laboring, of living as a servant, so that Christ is glorified first in our lives. 

Like the old saying, “When we quit worrying about who gets the credit, there is no limit to what we might accomplish together.”  When we serve one another rather than serving ourselves, we are able to be transformed, as I trust James and John were transformed.  Discovering a newfound honesty and transparency as we enter that prayerful and holy “space” where we say to God – “Thy Kingdom Come, thy will be done, on earth, among us . . . as it is in heaven.”

Dr. Louis Markos October 29-31: St. Mark’s Shreveport

Wonderful and Interesting Lecture by Dr. Markos. A prelude to our visit with him Oct. 29-31

On the weekend of October 29-31, St. Mark’s-Shreveport, will be welcoming Dr. Louis Markos as a guest lecturer on the work of CS Lewis, focusing primarily on “Mere Christianity.” This work by Lewis has become one of the most read books about what lay at the beginning of the Christian journey for many believers. It has lead many to faith, and opened the works of Lewis to many as companions on life’s journey. I was introduced to Lou’s work through The Teaching Company – https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses/life-and-writings-of-c-s-lewis

Throughout my own journey of growing in Christian faith, I have returned many times to the life and work of CS Lewis for inspiration and refreshment; rekindling an old friendship with the author of “The Chronicles of Narnia” which I read as a child, and which opened my heart and my mind to a new conversation with God and others about the good and kind Carpenter, Jesus Christ.

Regardless of where you might be in your journey of faith, I hope that you will join us at St. Marks for the lectures below; all are welcome. If you are joining us for lunch on Sunday – please call the Cathedral office and let us know ahead of time, or email: bess@stmarkscathedral.net.

Many Blessings and Godspeed – Alston

St. Mark’s Cathedral Garden Room

Mere Christianity Books 1 and 2 Friday – 6pm

Mere Christianity Book 3 Saturday – 4:00pm

Mere Christianity Book 4 Saturday – 6:00pm

Preaching on Lewis Sunday – 10:30 am

Parish Lunch

Chronicles of Narnia Following Sunday Lunch – Children of all ages welcome

Dr. Louis Markos on CS Lewis

Dr. Louis Markos, St. Mark’s Cathedral, Shreveport, October 29-31, 2021

Please plan to join us at St. Mark’s for our presentation and visit with Dr. Louis Markos. Please RSVP to bess@stmarkscathedral.net for lunch reservation. Blessings and Godspeed, Alston Johnson, Dean – St. Mark’s

Mere Christianity Books 1 and 2 Friday – 6pm

Mere Christianity Book 3 Saturday – 4:00pm

Mere Christianity Book 4 Saturday – 6:00pm

Preaching on Lewis Sunday – 10:30 am

Parish Lunch

Chronicles of Narnia Following Sunday Lunch

Millstones

Proper 21 B  – Alston Johnson

            Today I would like to share some words with you from a man named Toyohiko Kagawa, who as a boy wanted to learn to speak English.  In Kobe, Japan, the nearest thing he could find to English lessons were in a Bible class taught by Presbyterian missionaries.  Orphaned as a boy, Kagawa was being raised by his extended family.  Kagawa took to both English and the Bible class to the degree that he became a Christian.  A tragic consequence of his new found faith is that he was disowned by his Japanese family, and was eventually taken in by his new Presbyterian Church family.  

            After studying at the Presbyterian college in Tokyo for a few years, Kagawa discerned a calling to work with the poor in the industrial slums of Japan.  For many years he lived in a 6 by 6 shed in the slums of Kobe, where he invited others to join the Christian family that he had found.  He worked extensively to improve the lives of Japanese laborers, as well as living conditions for the poor.  By the time of his death in 1960, he was considered one of the Christian spiritual fathers of Japan.  This is something that he wrote that I found striking.  Form of a Japanese Haiku.

I read in a book

That a man named Christ

Went about doing good.

It is very disconcerting to me

That I am so easily satisfied

with just going about.  -Toyohiko Kagawa

Throughout this section of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is visiting with his friends and followers about the death that awaits him in Jerusalem. 

It is becoming evident that Jesus lives in the midst of “double-bind,” a “Catch-22,” situation.  The very attractiveness that Jesus communicates with the crowds, the very force that motivates those who are spiritually hungry and curious, is the very thing that will draw the “powers that be” upon him. 

Naturally there is tension building within the disciples; as they argue among themselves about who is the greatest, who is the real disciple, who is the real Christian.  

Jesus remains constant in his charity and understanding toward those on the fringes, outside of the circle, yet who are hungry to follow his way of life in the world. 

The disciples come across such a follower – casting demons.  He lacks credentialing.  I imagine that there were a number of such improvisational artists on the scene when Jesus came to town.  As we say, there is no greater flattery than imitation. 

When Jesus learns that his friends have rebuked this perhaps well- meaning imitator, Jesus takes the disciples “to school” a bit.  Jesus tells them that should have a bit more generosity of heart, be more accepting; that it would be better if “you hung a heavy millstone around your own necks and threw yourself into the deepest part of the sea,” before causing one of these new to the faith, one of these little ones to stumble; be careful what you presume to say and do in my name.

Essentially Jesus is telling His friends to be very careful about appointing themselves as the resident thought police.  “Whoever is not against us is for us.” 

For Jesus, the rigid lines of distinction about who is, and is not, a disciple remain permeable as He makes His way to Jerusalem; the opposite seems to be true of his friends.  The announcement of his own death and the growing need for a strong discipleship does not limit Jesus’ desire to have an ever growing circle of fellowship. 

What Jesus has to say to the disciples is as “hard” for us to hear today as it was in the first century; it is one of the reasons that we drive past a large number of churches every day.  2000 years following in the footsteps of the first disciples, it seems that we continue to exorcize demons and follow Jesus according to our own unique recipes.  

            It is as difficult an invitation for us to take into our own hearts as it was difficult for the first disciples.  It is easier for Christians, and for this minister as well, to simply “go about,” as Kagawa says. 

We naturally gather with those who are most like us in opinion and culture; those things that we share the most, but which cost us the least.  To “go about” is far easier than to learn the great-heartedness of Christ, and accept that the Spirit of God will move in unexpected ways among unusual suspects.

When we are at our best as denominational Christians, we recognize that proximity to Jesus is not something that we get to own like a piece of property.  We not only accept that other Christians see the landscape differently, we actively seek to work with others in the name of Christ.  

The assurance and comfort that we feel as Episcopalians is not meant to simply be a shield, or wall, behind which we hide from the world.  Rather, the joy and the affirmation of our denomination is meant to become a bridge into the world as a means by which the beauty of Christ’s presence might grow.

There is something larger and more beautiful to gain when we find ways to live and work with our Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, and yes Unitarian; even among our agnostic and atheist brothers and sisters.

Our denominational trappings – our vestments, creeds, liturgy, doctrine, and “way of life,” do not have to become millstones blocks.  But they can become mill stones, if we let them; especially if we find ourselves hiding behind them.  Here is a question that we might ask ourselves,

“How is my life as a {Democratic/Republican/Independent} Episcopalian Christian bringing others to know Christ?”  Where is my millstone we might ask ourselves today?

Am I simply “going about,” or am I on the mission of the Good Shepherd, the Carpenter, the Christ by “going about and doing good?” 

 I believe that Jesus was teaching his disciples about just how large God’s vision might be; certainly larger than their own.

One of the greats in our own Anglican neighborhood was Archbishop William Temple. 

 “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not yet its members.