KOH2RVA: Day 243

Beginning AgainEvery day I find a fresh poem in my inbox from the Writer’s Almanac. Some mornings I’m in too much of a hurry to read it (if you can imagine that), but when I’m not I do and I’m glad I had time to read this one (below).

The first time I read it, it seemed like a description of heaven: “The Land of Beginning Again, where all our mistakes and all our heartaches and all of our poor selfish grief could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door and never put on again.” The second time I read it, I thought it could be a description of church, or at least, church at its very best, as that place where heaven comes to earth. The third time I read it I thought that this could be the good news the church takes to the world: that there is a Land of Beginning Again, and Jesus knows the way. And this is how we might bring heaven to earth for those people outside the church; we might share with them this great good news.

I’m going to try to find someone today who needs to hear that there is a way to begin again, someone who needs to drop all her mistakes and heartaches and poor selfish grief like a shabby old coat at the door.

And I’m going to invite her to church this Sunday.

The Land of Beginning Again
by Louisa Fletcher

I wish that there were some wonderful place
In the Land of Beginning Again.
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
and never put on again.
I wish we could come on it all unaware,
Like the hunter who finds a lost trail;
And I wish that the one whom our blindness had done
The greatest injustice of all
Could be there at the gates
like an old friend that waits
For the comrade he’s gladdest to hail.
We would find all the things we intended to do
But forgot, and remembered too late,
Little praises unspoken, little promises broken,
And all the thousand and one
Little duties neglected that might have perfected
The day for one less fortunate.
It wouldn’t be possible not to be kind
In the Land of Beginning Again,
And the ones we misjudged
and the ones whom we grudged
their moments of victory here,
Would find in the grasp of our loving hand-clasp
More than penitent lips could explain…
So I wish that there were some wonderful place
Called the Land of Beginning Again,
Where all our mistakes and all our heartaches,
And all of our poor selfish grief
Could be dropped like a shabby old coat at the door
And never put on again.

“The Land of Beginning Again” by Louisa Fletcher, from The Land of Beginning Again. © Nabu Press, 2011. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

My Father’s Eyes

This was the conclusion of Sunday’s sermon, which ended up being a kind of Trinity Sunday/Father’s Day message.  You can find the whole sermon on the First Baptist website at www.fbcrichmond.org, but I thought I would share this much of it with you here.  Enjoy.

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On this Father’s Day I hope you will forgive me for mentioning my own father, who turned 80 on Friday.  He hasn’t been well for some time, as many of you know, but he has always been a wonderful father, one whose steadfast love and faithfulness made it easy for me to believe in a heavenly Father.  In fact I once had a dream in which I was walking along a path through a park, and up ahead was a man sitting on a bench, looking away from me.  Because it was a dream I knew that the man sitting on the bench was God, and as I got closer I began to get apprehensive.  What would God look like?  What would he say to me?  But as I got closer he turned and made eye contact, and I felt all that apprehension leave my body in a rush.

Because his eyes were my father’s eyes,

And they were full of love and forgiveness,

Just like always.

This Is How We Do It

I got e-mail from a church member recently telling me how disappointed she had been in the way I handled the vote on the 2011 budget at the end of the 8:30 worship service last Sunday.  She said, “You told everybody that it was a done deal, that we had already voted on it, and that we were just giving our affirmation to a previous decision.  You asked for a show of hands if we were for the budget, but not if we were against it.  It made me feel like I don’t really have a voice in the decisions that are made at First Baptist Church. ”

I wrote back immediately, saying: “Please forgive me.  I was confused.  I thought we had already voted on the budget at our last quarterly business meeting, and that we didn’t really need to vote on Sunday.  Then I looked down at my bulletin and it said, ‘Vote on the Budget.’  So I asked people to raise their hands if they wanted to affirm the budget but didn’t give them a way to oppose it.  I blew it in almost every possible way at 8:30, but got it right at 11:00.  I’m very sorry.”

She wrote back to me and said:  “Thanks for the explanation.  That’s a very good explanation.”

The explanation of course is that I messed up.  I made a mistake.  I didn’t deprive her of her voice intentionally; I did it unintentionally.  But what she did was a perfect illustration of the sermon I had preached that morning.  I had said that if someone in the church does you wrong you should confront him, just as in says in Matthew 18:15: “If another member of the church sins against you, go to him and tell him his fault when it is just the two of you alone.  If he listens to you, you’ve won your brother back.” 

I wrote back to her, congratulating her on the way she had handled things.  “This is what you did,” I told her.  “I sinned against you.  You confronted me and made me aware of what I had done.  I listened to you, apologized for my mistake, and you forgave me.  That’s just what Jesus was talking about!  And,” I added, “I hope you’ve won your brother back” (smile).

“Absolutely!” she replied, and went on to tell me that she had appreciated the sermon very much, but after the vote she hadn’t been able to think about anything else.  Once we got that cleared up, we were free to move on to other things.

I wanted to share that story here, because it seems like a perfect illustration of how to make peace with someone who has offended you.  You don’t talk about that person: you talk to him.  You tell him what it was that offended you and why.  You give him a chance to explain, and perhaps even apologize.  If he does, then you forgive him and move on to other things. 

Doesn’t that seem like a better way than fuming about it quietly for days or even weeks, holding a grudge against the offending party until you can’t even stand the sight of him anymore?  Jesus understood: if you don’t go to your brother when he sins against you, if you don’t tell him his fault and give him a chance to apologize, then you lose your brother—not because of his feelings toward you but because of your feelings toward him. 

I don’t know about you, but I need all the brothers and sisters I can get these days, and for that reason I’m thankful that one of my sisters was brave enough to write to me and tell me my fault.  It’s not easy to hear such things, but believe me, it’s a whole lot better than not hearing them.

Little Jimmy

untitled-2I don’t know how it is for you, but I am often harder on myself than on anyone else.  I can counsel with others and no matter what they have done I can usually nod my head sympathetically and show some understanding.  But not with myself.  Where I would forgive the shortcomings of others I often scold myself, wag my finger, and say, “How could you?!”  I tend to hold on to sins that God has forgiven long ago, sifting through them from time to time to remind myself just how wretched I really am.

And that’s where this picture comes in handy.

This is a picture of me when I was two years old.  I find that when I look at it I feel tender toward this little boy and far more forgiving than I might be otherwise.  I begin to understand that my inability to forgive myself can be crippling, in the same way Jesus understood that we cannot love our neighbors as ourselves if we cannot love ourselves.  It’s not that I use this picture to excuse my behavior, not that I look the other way and let “Little Jimmy” do whatever he wants.  It’s just that I begin to confront his behavior with love instead of anger, like someone who could be redeemed rather than someone who should be condemned.

I have a feeling that God is able to see what is most lovable about us even in our worst moments.  I have a feeling that’s what keeps him from blasting us straight to hell on most days, and instead keeps him opening his arms to receive all his prodigal sons and daughters.

Even Little Jimmy.