Finding Freedom from Religion or Freedom for Religion?

Today (July 4), Americans celebrate our Declaration of Independence from “British tyranny” (as it was then perceived.)  It was primarily a declaration economic and political independence (a reaction against “taxation without representation.”)  My thoughts today, however, turn to the “religious freedom” our ancestors sought in the new land.  I am particular interested in those “founding fathers” who signed the Declaration of Independence 237 years ago today.  Were they seeking “freedom from religion” or “freedom for religion”? And if it was “for religion,” what was the nature of this religion?

To read more, click on the title below —

“Declaring Independence: Economically, Politically, and Spiritually”

A Declaration of Independence (from ED)

A Declaration of Independence (from ED) from Kaila Prins in “Skinny” Genes

Sent to Serve: My Life with (and without) God – Part II

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

 

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

 

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

 

the story begins…

Out of Nineveh: My Life with (and without) God – Part I

the story continues….

Prayer, Parenting, Pits, and Pills: My Life with (and without) God – Part III

A Clarion Call: My Life with (and without) God – Part IV

Alone in a Fog: My Life with (and without) God – Part V

On a Teeter-Totter: My Life with (and without) God – Part VI

In the Heart of the Finger Lakes: My Life with (and without) God – Part VII

Chosen to Adopt: My Life with (and without) God – Part VIII

Lost on Long Island: My Life with (and without) God – Part IX

The Russians Are Spying On Me (And I’m Loving It)

My Dad is a Cold War veteran.  For part of his stint, he was stationed in Germany defending the Berlin Wall (or at least cooking for those not far from it).  He was taught (perhaps like Mitt Romney) that the Russians are our true enemies.  To this day, when Dad experiences static on his cell phone, trouble sending or receiving e-mails, or his cable TV goes on the blink, he declares –

It looks like the Russians are spying on us again.

Well, today I awoke and went to the computer to see my blog stats through the night.  There I discovered that, while I was sleeping, someone from Russia was spying on me.  Some “Russkie” as Slim Pickens from “Dr. Strangelove” would say, has viewed my blog and now there’s no telling what will happen.

I’m not going to panic.  I mean, I’ve been dangerously exposed before.

– Like when my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Underwood, caught me trading my baseball cards in class and took them away from me for a whole day. (I didn’t think I would ever get over that one.)

– Like when I wrote a pastoral e-mail reply to one person and clicked the “Reply All” button.

– Like last night, when I commented on a blog post that listed many ambitious worthwhile goals by writing, “You are a man on a mission.”  And the reply came back, “Actually, I am a woman on a mission.”

But now, the Russians!  That’s a different story.  What should I do?

– Should I practice hiding under my desk like in those “Duck and Cover” drills we used to do in grade school?

– Should I contact the FBI and inform them my blog is under surveillance (as if they don’t already know)?

– Should I delete the post I did on “The Death (and ultimate life) of Ivan Ilych” for fear that Tolstoy is an enemy of the state?

So much fear and trembling.  What to do?  Lord, help me.

[pause for a brief period of intensive prayer]

Okay, I know what I’ve got to do.

– I will strengthen my feeble knees and dose up on some Alexander Solzhenitsyn (one Russian author I’ve not read).

– I will reflect in blog posts on themes of faith in my favorite Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky.

– I will search out Russian bloggers who could be looking for “A Way With Words” without even knowing it.

If you are watching this, President Putin, beware!  You may be able to pass legislation restricting Americans from adopting Russian children, but you can’t stop this American from exercising his freedom to reach Russian children (of all ages) with words of encouragement and hope.

 

vladimir putin

(“Vladimir Putin is watching you!” from Limbic, some rights reserved)

 

Note to my Psychiatrist: 

Dear, Dr.W_____, I got your message.   No, I haven’t stopped taking my medicine.  It’s true I didn’t get much sleep last night.   But I promise you I haven’t been hearing any strange voices or seeing any unusual visions.  Trust me on this one. 

P.S.  Do you know if Communists have an equivalent of a “fatwa”?  Just wondering.

Give Your Life or Choose to Die: Eponine and Javier in Les Miserables

les miserables

I just got back from the movie Les Miserables – my first movie theater experience in about 20 years.  All I can say is – it was worth the wait.

But I will say more… probably several posts worth.  First, let me caution you that if you are planning to see the movie (and I recommend you do), see it before you read this review.  That said…

Today, I want to focus on the lives and deaths of two characters in the film – Eponine (the inn keeper’s daughter) and Javier (the policeman).

Eponine grows up in the household of unscrupulous parents who favor her over Colette (“I mean Cosette.” – as the inn keeper would say).  She sees their greed as they rob, cheat, and steal even a a randy Santa Claus from his goods (including his pants).  As they fall on harder times, as does most of France, they are still only looking out for themselves.  To the end of the movie, they sing out their selfish creed as they are carried away from crashing a wedding.

Yet, in spite of her skewed upbringing, Eponine manages to develop strong values.  Though she falls in love the handsome and brave Marius, she consents to show him the way to Cosette when she sees this is his heart’s desire.  Though she could have become embittered at only seeing love from a distance, she channels her rage to fight for the freedom of her people.  In the end, she gives Marius Cosette’s love note, making their union possible.  As her reward, she is able to die in his arms, as he declares love for her as well.

Eponine lives a virtuous, self-less life.   She gives her life for her love, and for people.

Javier, on the other hand, lives for vengeance.  We first see him overseeing prisoners as they are treated like slaves.  Though he hands Jean Valjean his parole papers, he tells Valjean that he will  never pay for his crime (of stealing bread to feed his sister’s son).  Javier represents the dark side of merciless law that favors the punishment of death-in-life rather than make room for forgiveness and grace.

Fast forward to the revolution.  Javier is a prisoner of the revolutionaries, being caught as a spy.  Jean Valjean is given the opportunity to kill him for his crime.  Instead, he cuts Javier loose and grants his pardon.  This confuses Javier.  In fact, it causes him to question his existence.  Not long later, when the tables are turned and Javier lets Jean Valjean escape, Javier can’t bear to live with his identity confusion.  The world can not contain both Valjean and Javier (mercy and vengeance), he sings.  He chooses to kill himself rather than to live by grace.

Death is something none of us can escape.  But we do have a choice.  We can live by grace, and do what is good and right and loving, as Eponine does.  Or we can die clinging to a perverted sense of human injustice that can never measure up, as Javier does.

Give your life or choose to die.  Which will you do?

(image “At the Movies – Les Miserables” from erjkprunczýk, some rights reserved)