Jesus never says to the poor: ‘come find the church’, but he says to those of us in the church: ‘go into the world and find the poor, hungry, homeless, imprisoned.
My vision of the gathered church that had come to me... had been replaced by a vision of the gathered community. What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection. There had maybe never been anybody who had not been loved by somebody, who had been loved by somebody else, and so on and on... It was a community always disappointed in itself, disappointing its members, always trying to contain its divisions and gentle its meanness, always failing and yet always preserving a sort of will toward goodwill. I knew that, in the midst of all the ignorance and error, this was a membership; it was the membership of Port William and of no other place on earth. My vision gathered the community as it never has been and never will be gathered in this world of time, for the community must always be marred by members who are indifferent to it or against it, who are nonetheless its members and maybe nonetheless essential to it. And yet I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another's love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace.
You will not find Jesus in heaven, reclining on a cloud. He isn’t in church on Sunday morning, sitting in the pews. He isn’t locked away in the Vatican or held hostage by a denominational seminary. Rather, Jesus is sitting in the Emergency Room, an uninsured, undocumented immigrant needing healing. He is behind bars, so far from his parole date he can’t think that far into the future. He is homeless, evicted from his apartment, waiting in line at the shelter for a bed and a cup of soup. He is the poor child living in government housing with lice in his hair, the stripes of abuse on his body and a growl in his stomach. He is an old forgotten woman in a roach infested apartment who no one thinks of anymore. He is a refugee in Sudan, living in squalor. He is the abused and molested child who falsely feels responsible for the evil that is perpetrated against her. He is the young woman who hates herself for the decisions she has made, decisions that have imperiled her life, but did the best she could, torn between impossible choices. Jesus is anyone without power, ability or the means to help themselves, and he beckons us to come to him; not on a do-gooding crusade, but in solidarity and embrace.
Silence is another element we find in classic fairy tales — girls muted by magic or sworn to silence in order to break enchantment. In "The Wild Swans," a princess is imprisoned by her stepmother, rolled in filth, then banished from home (as her older brothers had been before her). She goes in search of her missing brothers, discovers that they've been turned into swans, whereupon the young girl vows to find a way to break the spell. A mysterious woman comes to her in a dream and tells her what to do: 'Pick the nettles that grow in graveyards, crush and spin them into thread, then weave them into coats and throw them over your brothers' backs.' The nettles burn and blister, yet she never falters: picking, spinning, weaving, working with wounded, crippled hands, determined to save her brothers. All this time she's silent. 'You must not speak,' the dream woman has warned, 'for a single world will be like a knife plunged into your brothers' hearts.'You must not speak. That's what my stepfather said: don't speak, don't cry, don't tell. That's what my mother said as well, as we sat in hospital waiting rooms -- and I obeyed, as did my brothers. We sat as still and silent as stone while my mother spun false tales to explain each break and bruise and burn. Our family moved just often enough that her stories were fresh and plausible; each new doctor believed her, and chided us children to be more careful. I never contradicted those tales. I wouldn't have dared, or wanted to. They'd send me into foster care. They'd send my young brothers away. And so we sat, and the unspoken truth was as sharp as the point of a knife.
I hate those people who say you always find the one when you stop looking for her. It is the advice you least want to hear when what you think you need most is someone to love. At best, it comes off like being asked to not think of a white elephant. The elephant becomes the only thing you can think of.
Not to waste the springI threw down everything,And ran into the open worldTo sing what I could sing...To dance what I could dance!And join with everyone!I wandered with a reckless heartbeneath the newborn sun.First stepping through the blushing dawn,I crossed beneath a garden bower,counting every hermit thrush,counting every hour.When morning's light was ripe at last,I stumbled on with reckless feet;and found two nymphs engaged in play,approaching them stirred no retreat.With naked skin, their weaving hands,in form akin to Calliope's maids,shook winter currents from their hairto weave within them vernal braids.I grabbed the first, who seemed the strongerby her soft and dewy leg,and swore blind eyes,Lest I find I, before Diana, a hunted stag.But the nymphs they laughed, and shook their heads.and begged I drop beseeching hands.For one was no goddess, the other no huntress,merely two girls at play in the early day."Please come to us, with unblinded eyes,and raise your ready lips.We will wash your mouth with watery sighs,weave you springtime with our fingertips."So the nymphs they spoke, we kissed and laid,by noontime's hour, our love was made,Like braided chains of crocus stems,We lay entwined, I laid with them,Our breath, one glassy, tideless sea,Our bodies draping wearily.We slept, I slept so lucidly,with hopes to stay this memory.I woke in dusty afternoon,Alone, the nymphs had left too soon,I searched where perched upon my kneesHeard only larks' songs in the trees."Be you, the larks, my far-flung maids?With lilac feet and branchlike braids...Who sing sweet odes to my elation,in your larking exaltation!"With these, my clumsy, carefree words, The birds they stirred and flew away,"Be I, poor Actaeon," I cried, "Be dead…Before they, like Hippodamia, be gone astray!"Yet these words, too late, remained unheard,By lark, that parting, morning bird.I looked upon its parting flight,and smelled the coming of the night;desirous, I gazed upon its jaunt,as Leander gazes Hellespont.Now the hour was ripe and dark,sensuous memories of sunlight past,I stood alone in garden bowersand asked the value of my hours.Time was spent or time was tossed,Life was loved and life was lost.I kissed the flesh of tender girls,I heard the songs of vernal birds.I gazed upon the blushing light,aware of day before the night.So let me ask and hear a thought:Did I live the spring I’d sought?It's true in joy, I walked along,took part in dance, and sang the song.and never tried to bind an hourto my borrowed garden bower;nor did I once entreata day to slumber at my feet.Yet days aren't lulled by lyric song,like morning birds they pass along,o'er crests of trees, to none belong;o'er crests of trees of drying dew,their larking flight, my hands, eschewThus I'll say it once and true…From all that I saw, and everywhere I wandered,I learned that time cannot be spent,It only can be squandered.
If we are not being maligned, scandalizing those who still sleep in the church, then we are missing the incarnational call to love the world's most vulnerable, the world's exiled, the world's most wounded. Our concern should be what the poor and prostituted think of us, what the God of the universe thinks of us, not what those around us think of us.
But what might a woman say about church as she? What might a woman say about the church as body and bride? Perhaps she would speak of the way a regular body moves through the world—always changing, never perfect—capable of nurturing life, not simply through the womb, but through hands, feet, eyes, voice, and brain. Every part is sacred. Every part has a function. Perhaps she would speak of impossible expectations and all the time she’s wasted trying to contort herself into the shape of those amorphous silhouettes that flit from magazines and billboards into her mind. Or of this screwed-up notion of purity as a status, as something awarded by men with tests and checklists and the power to give it and take it away. Perhaps she would speak of the surprise of seeing herself—flaws and all—in the mirror on her wedding day. Or of the reality that with new life comes swollen breasts, dry heaves, dirty diapers, snotty noses, late-night arguments, and a whole army of new dangers and fears she never even considered before because life-giving isn’t nearly as glamorous as it sounds, but it’s a thousand times more beautiful. Perhaps she would talk about being underestimated, about surprising people and surprising herself. Or about how there are moments when her own strength startles her, and moments when her weakness—her forgetfulness, her fear, her exhaustion—unnerve her. Maybe she would tell of the time, in the mountains with bare feet on the ground, she stood tall and wise and felt every cell in her body smile in assent as she inhaled and exhaled and in one loud second realized, I’m alive! I’m enfleshed! only to forget it the next. Or maybe she would explain how none of the categories created for her sum her up or capture her essence.
Without conversion of heart we cannot serve God on earth. We have naturally neither faith, nor fear, nor love, toward God and His Son Jesus Christ. We have no delight in His Word. We take no pleasure in prayer or communion with Him. We have no enjoyment in His ordinances, His house, His people, or His day. We may have a form of Christianity, and keep up a round of ceremonies and religious performances. But without conversion we have no more heart in our religion than a brick or a stone. Can a dead corpse serve God? We know it cannot. Well, without conversion we are dead toward God. Look round the congregation with which you worship every Sunday. Mark how little interest the great majority of them take in what is going on. Observe how listless, and apathetic, and indifferent, they evidently are about the whole affair. It is clear their hearts are not there! They are thinking of something else, and not of religion. They are thinking of business, or money, or pleasure, or worldly plans, or bonnets, or gowns, or new dresses, or amusements. Their bodies are there, but not their hearts. And what is the reason? What is it they all need? They need conversion. Without it they only come to church for fashion and form’s sake, and go away from church to serve the world or their sins. But this is not all. Without conversion of heart we could not enjoy heaven, if we got there. Heaven is a place where holiness reigns supreme, and sin and the world have no place at all. The company will all be holy; the employments will all be holy; it will be an eternal Sunday. Surely if we go to heaven, we must have a heart in tune and able to enjoy it, or else we shall not be happy. We must have a nature in harmony with the element we live in, and the place where we dwell. Can a fish be happy out of water? We know it cannot. Well, without conversion of heart we could not be happy in heaven.Look round the neighborhood in which you live and the persons with whom you are acquainted. Think what many of them would do if they were cut off for ever from money, and business, and newspapers, and cards, and balls, and races, and hunting, and shopping, and worldly amusements! Would they like it? Think what they would feel if they were shut up forever with Jesus Christ, and saints, and angels! Would they be happy? Would the eternal company of Moses, and David, and St. Paul be pleasant to those who never take the trouble to read what those holy men wrote? Would heaven’s everlasting praise suit the taste of those who can hardly spare a few minutes in a week for private religion, even for prayer? There is but one answer to be given to all these questions. We must be converted before we can enjoy heaven. Heaven would be no heaven to any child of Adam without conversion.Let no man deceive us. There are two things which are of absolute necessity to the salvation of every man and woman on earth. One of them is the mediatorial work of Christ for us, His atonement, satisfaction, and intercession. The other is the converting work of the Spirit in us, His guiding, renewing, and sanctifying grace. We must have both a title and a heart for heaven. Sacraments are only generally necessary to salvation: a man may be saved without them, like the penitent thief. An interest in Christ and conversion are absolutely necessary: without them no one can possibly be saved. All, all alike, high or low, rich or poor, old or young, gentle or simple, churchmen or dissenters, baptized or unbaptized, all must be converted or perish.
The very quality of your life, whether you love it or hate it, is based upon how thankful you are toward God. It is one's attitude that determines whether life unfolds into a place of blessedness or wretchedness. Indeed, looking at the same rose bush, some people complain that the roses have thorns while others rejoice that some thorns come with roses. It all depends on your perspective. This is the only life you will have before you enter eternity. If you want to find joy, you must first find thankfulness. Indeed, the one who is thankful for even a little enjoys much. But the unappreciative soul is always miserable, always complaining. He lives outside the shelter of the Most High God.Perhaps the worst enemy we have is not the devil but our own tongue. James tells us, "The tongue is set among our members as that which . . . sets on fire the course of our life" (James 3:6). He goes on to say this fire is ignited by hell. Consider: with our own words we can enter the spirit of heaven or the agonies of hell! It is hell with its punishments, torments and misery that controls the life of the grumbler and complainer! Paul expands this thought in 1 Corinthians 10:10, where he reminds us of the Jews who "grumble[d] . . . and were destroyed by the destroyer." The fact is, every time we open up to grumbling and complaining, the quality of our life is reduced proportionally -- a destroyer is bringing our life to ruin!People often ask me, "What is the ruling demon over our church or city?" They expect me to answer with the ancient Aramaic or Phoenician name of a fallen angel. What I usually tell them is a lot more practical: one of the most pervasive evil influences over our nation is ingratitude!Do not minimize the strength and cunning of this enemy! Paul said that the Jews who grumbled and complained during their difficult circumstances were "destroyed by the destroyer." Who was this destroyer? If you insist on discerning an ancient world ruler, one of the most powerful spirits mentioned in the Bible is Abaddon, whose Greek name is Apollyon. It means "destroyer" (Rev. 9:11). Paul said the Jews were destroyed by this spirit. In other words, when we are complaining or unthankful, we open the door to the destroyer, Abaddon, the demon king over the abyss of hell! In the Presence of GodMultitudes in our nation have become specialists in the "science of misery." They are experts -- moral accountants who can, in a moment, tally all the wrongs society has ever done to them or their group. I have never talked with one of these people who was happy, blessed or content about anything. They expect an imperfect world to treat them perfectly.Truly, there are people in this wounded country of ours who need special attention. However, most of us simply need to repent of ingratitude, for it is ingratitude itself that is keeping wounds alive! We simply need to forgive the wrongs of the past and become thankful for what we have in the present.The moment we become grateful, we actually begin to ascend spiritually into the presence of God. The psalmist wrote,"Serve the Lord with gladness; come before Him with joyful singing. . . . Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations" (Psalm 100:2, 4-5).It does not matter what your circumstances are; the instant you begin to thank God, even though your situation has not changed, you begin to change. The key that unlocks the gates of heaven is a thankful heart. Entrance into the courts of God comes as you simply begin to praise the Lord.
We owe all to Jesus crucified. What is your life, my brethren, but the cross? Whence comes the bread of your soul but from the cross? What is your joy but the cross? What is your delight, what is your heaven, but the Blessed One, once crucified for you, who ever liveth to make intercession for you? Cling to the cross, then, put both arms around it! Hold to the Crucified, and never let Him go. Come afresh to the cross at this moment, and rest there now and for ever! Then, with the power of God resting upon you, go forth and preach the cross! Tell out the story of the bleeding Lamb. Repeat the wondrous tale, and nothing else. Never mind how you do it, only proclaim that Jesus died for sinner.The cross held up by a babe’s hands is just as powerful as if a giant held it up. The power lies in the word itself, or rather in the Holy Spirit who works by it and with it. O glorious Christ, when I have had a vision of Thy cross, I have seen it at first like a common gibbet, and Thou wast hanging on it like a felon; but, as I have looked, I have seen it begin to rise, and tower aloft till it has reached the highest heaven, and by its mighty power has lifted up myriads to the throne of God. I have seen its arms extend and expand until they have embraced all the earth. I have seen the foot of it go down deep as our helpless miseries are; and what a vision I have had of Thy magnificence, O Thou crucified One! Brethren, believe in the power of the cross for the conversion of those around you. Do not say of any man that he cannot be saved. The blood of Jesus is omnipotent. Do not say of any district that it is too sunken, or of any class of men that they are too far gone: the word of the cross reclaims the lost. Believe it to be the power of God, and you shall find it so.Believe in Christ crucified, and preach boldly in His name, and you shall see great and gladsome things. Do not doubt the ultimate triumph of Christianity. Do not let a mistrust flit across your soul. The cross must conquer; it must blossom with a crown, a crown commensurate with the person of the Crucified, and the bitterness of His agony. His reward shall parallel His sorrows. Trust in God, and lift your banner high, and now with psalms and songs advance to battle, for the Lord of hosts is with us, the Son of the Highest leads our van. Onward, with blast of silver trumpet and shout of those that seize the spoil. Let no man’s heart fail him! Christ hath died! Atonement is complete! God is satisfied! Peace is proclaimed! Heaven glitters with proofs of mercy already bestowed upon ten thousand times ten thousand! Hell is trembling, heaven adoring, earth waiting. Advance, ye saints, to certain victory! You shall overcome through the blood of the Lamb.
Where did that remark come from? Mormonism, as anyone can easily find out, is one of a number of Christian sects which came into being in the USA in the nineteenth century. It differs from mainstream Christianity on certain technical points which Dawkins would at least pretend not to understand. So why write "four if you count Mormonism"? Why not "five if you count Mormonism and Christian Science"? Or "ten if you include Mormonism, Christian Science, Christedelphians, Jehovah's Witnesses, Reformed Judaism, Shi'ite Islam, Strict Baptists, Celtic Orthodox, Unitarians and Quakers?" Does Dawkins think that the Mormons' adoptionist Christology is so far removed from the mainstream as to constitute a separate faith (while the Jehovah's Witnesses' arianism is not?) Or is he playing a numbers game, saying that the Church of Jesus Christ and Latter-day Saints is so numerous as to count as a religion in its own right, distinct from "Christianity". (But then, why not "Four if you include Catholicism"?) We never find out. Like Melchizidec, it comes from nowhere and it goes nowhere. It popped into Dawkins head and he wrote it down. It makes me doubt whether our author is fully in command of his brief."Four if you include Mormons". Honestly, you might just as well say "Britain consists of three countries: England, Scotland and Wales – or four if you include Tooting Bec.
In my contact with people I find that, as a rule, it is only the little, narrow people who live for themselves, who never read good books, who do not travel, who never open up their souls in a way to permit them to come into contact with other souls -- with the great outside world. No man whose vision is bounded by colour can come into contact with what is highest and best in the world. In meeting men, in many places, I have found that the happiest people are those who do the most for others; the most miserable are those who do the least. I have also found that few things, if any, are capable of making one so blind and narrow as race prejudice. I often say to our students, in the course of my talks to them on Sunday evenings in the chapel, that the longer I live and the more experience I have of the world, the more I am convinced that, after all, the one thing that is most worth living for -- and dying for, if need be -- is the opportunity of making some one else more happy and more useful.