Thursday, October 25, 2012

Chasing Turkeys

I was running after a turkey down a long red hallway with lights on both walls every so often. Every time I reached out my hands to grab the turkey, it eluded my grasp. As I ran, the hallway stretched longer and longer. The lights flashed by as I ran ever faster but never fast enough. I wanted, no needed, to catch that turkey. Suddenly the hallway branched into many hallways and a turkey was running away down each branch. I stared wildly from hallway to hallway trying frantically to decide which turkey to chase. My eyes searched for some clue, some reason by which to decide which turkey to chase. But all the hallways were the same. And it seemed every time I looked there were more hallways with more turkeys. Panic grew inside me. The turkeys — I needed to catch them all and I couldn’t even catch one. I collapsed and began to weep. As I knelt sobbing, my tears collected around me into a great puddle. The burden of my impossible duty crushed me utterly, my sense of failure overwhelmed me and my despair was complete.

How long I sat in personal darkness I cannot say. The water of my tears lapped about my legs and I looked up. I was kneeling in the water on the gentle shore of a quiet pond. The sky was clear blue. A delicate breeze lightly ruffled the surface of the water and caused a barely perceptible waving among the trees. I felt a prickly sensation all over my skin, almost an electric vibration. I’m sure it doesn’t sound so in the telling but it was exceedingly pleasant. Quite suddenly I noticed that the hopelessness of the hallway had fallen from me. The pleasant tingling continued to lift me into peace.

“The turkeys,” I muttered. From behind me, a voice at the same time sober and spirited, said, “Ah yes, the turkeys.” 

I stood and turned with a start. A man was standing a few paces from the water’s edge, tranquil in his bearing but filled with energy in his being. He was fully present with me but his eyes were as deep as the universe and seemed to see everywhere at once. I looked and saw dancing joy within him.

I stepped out of the water and walked toward him. My legs were dry as though they had never been wet.

“Sir,” I said, “you know of the turkeys?”

“I do,” said he.

“I needed to catch them and could not,” said I.

“Needed?” said he. There was a tinge of sorrow in his eyes, though the joy was never in danger from the sorrow. Threads of joy ran even through the sorrow.

“I thought I needed to catch the turkeys.”

“Yes, you did think that, didn’t you?”

“Did I not?”

“No, my son.”

“Why were the turkeys running?”

“So you could chase them.”

“And not catch them?”

“The turkeys were never to be caught and kept as though yours. You were created for a joyful turkey chase! Grabbing, clutching, feathers flying, falling, laughing, and jumping up to run again!” His eyes lit up and he started laughing just thinking about the spectacle!

His infectious joy set me laughing, too, as I saw myself through his eyes chasing a wild, wing-flapping bird down the hallway enjoying the chase rather than worrying about the catch.

We laughed in waves for several minutes, trading verbal pictures of crazy turkey-chasing follies.

The laughter finally subsided and I looked again into his eyes. “Then where did I get the idea that I was supposed to catch and keep the turkey for my own?”

“Not from me.”

“Will I ever get the chance to chase the turkey again, the way I was supposed to? To run down the hallway and enjoy the chase for its own sake free of the burden of catching and keeping?” I asked. Though I felt wistful that I might have missed a joyful opportunity, it was impossible to be sad in this man’s presence.

“Can you trust me with your chase? Are able to enjoy the crazy chase and not be caught up in catching the turkey?”

Again, it was the eyes that did the most work on me – inside of me, really. “Yes,” I said, “I am able.”

“Enjoy!” he said.

I felt the warmth of the sun on my cheeks and opened my eyes to a beautiful Thanksgiving morning. The smell of freshly brewing coffee drifted in from the kitchen.  As I lay in bed, I remembered Ecclesiastes that chasing after the stuff of the world is chasing after the wind.  Then I remembered 1 Timothy 6:6, that godliness with contentment is great gain. I resolved anew to let this Thanksgiving be a day on which my heart would be alive with gratitude and instead of chasing after earthly things, I would enjoy the journey that God has given me with the people he has placed in my life.

Monday, October 22, 2012

A Stroll Down the Reformation Hall in the Museum of History

October is a great month. The weather begins to turn. Harvest decorations come out. We just begin to turn to the holiday season with anticipation. October is also a special month in the Lutheran calendar. We celebrate the Reformation. There is a lesson for all of us in the Reformation story, but first let’s take a stroll through the halls of history. We will be in the Middle Ages hall, from roughly AD1400 to AD1600.

A quick glance up the hall reveals it is a great time of intellectual fervor. Big changes are afoot! In 1492, Columbus sails the ocean blue. Leonardo Da Vinci begins painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in 1508. In the 1530’s, Copernicus’s idea that the Earth is not the center of the solar system — let alone the universe! — began to gain currency.

The first picture we encounter is a corrupted Catholic church. There are still good people in the church, but the hierarchy has gone really bad. Clerical offices (which meant a good living at the time) were for sale, as was forgiveness of sin through a certificate, called an indulgence, which one could buy from the church. Many popes in the middle ages were known to have mistresses. The Catholic Church severely punished people who teach against them, including burning heretics at the stake.

The next picture is of the political times. The rulers of what is now Germany would like to get out from under Vatican control, including Vatican taxation. The Turks are beginning their attempted conquest through Eastern Europe. The Vatican has a formidable army that could have been sent to Germany were it not for the Turkish threat.

Finally we see a picture of reformers. The first two are John Wycliffe in England and Jan Hus in Germany, both of whom were condemned by the church. Then there is a particularly stubborn monk named Martin Luther who, after years of trying to live a life worthy of God, discovered in the scriptures that it is God himself who makes sinners worthy through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther is surrounded by others whose names you might know: Huldrych Zwingli, John Calvin, King Henry VIII, John Knox, Phillip Melanchthon and many others.

As we look at the detail near the center of the reformers, we find a document dated October 31, 1517. This is the document which Martin Luther nailed to the public bulletin board (the door of the church, in this case) in the university town of Wittenberg. In this document, Martin Luther called for new debate on the sale of indulgences, asserting that not only were they not effective in bringing forgiveness, but they were driving people away from the true forgiveness that God offers repentant sinners in Christ Jesus. This document sparked heated religious controversy, including death warrants, that lasted more than fifty years.

Down the hall we begin to see pictures of new church bodies, including the Lutheran church. The expression on the faces of the reformers in these pictures is bittersweet because though the reformation succeeded, their intent was not to break up the church, but to call the church back to Christ.

The lessons of the Reformation are numerous. Take care with what you come to believe and why — nobody starts out trying to become a heretic. Stick with your convictions. It can be helpful to have powerful friends in high places whose interests dovetail with yours. God is at work. Examine your own life to see if you need a little reformation yourself. Building programs can be big trouble if not kept in perspective. The truth will win out when people are courageous enough to continue to proclaim it in the face of threats (this does not mean that people will not possibly suffer and die in the process). I'm sure there are many more lessons. Perhaps you can share with me what you learn from the Reformation story.

Celebrate Reformation Day in your life by reading the scriptures (you might try the book of Galatians, one of Luther’s favorites) and allowing yourself to be pulled into the tender mercy of God who forgives penitent sinners for Jesus’ sake.