Via Media

image

There exists among the clouds
A blue so deep
That it beckons to the ones
Scanning heaven for peace.

One side – then the other
Succumb to precipitous billows.
While the path of the deepest
Paints a song of pure light
From the sky, to the earth,
Through the eye, piercing soul,
The blessed
The Via Media.

“What Are We Fighting For?” A Book Review

WAWFF Tom BickertonHow many LGBTQ people are in the interesting photograph depicting the church on the cover of “What Are We Fighting For? Coming Together Around What Matters Most” by Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton? Seriously, I included an image of the cover. Take a look and count them.

Trick question. You can’t.

Because if they are there, they are people mixed in with the rest of the “motley crew” that makes up the church.

Then again, how many times does Bishop Bickerton (a Bishop in the United Methodist Church) mention the issues around LGBTQ people, facing his (and my) denomination?

Another trick question because unless I really, really missed it, these issues are not referenced in this book. The title alone was enough to make this reader think that these things would be mentioned. It seems to be one of the main issues our branch of Christianity is in conflict about these days. Like I said, I thought it would be mentioned. But it is not.

And truthfully, I’m glad. That is probably the most genuine and genius accomplishment of “What Are We Fighting For.” The author manages to talk about what lies behind or underneath the issues that are causing conflict rather than the specific issues. (Yes, he does bring up a few specifics, but I will let the reader get to those and make their own judgement about how it fits into the rest of his argument.) The author is then able to call us as United Methodist Christians to a higher place of talking about what threatens the unity of the church – our loss of the primary vision of being a people who can “restore order and focus in the church and throughout the world with a faith that many call naïve and out of touch.” (page 133)

In the days of Trump v. Cruz v. Kasich and Clinton v. Sanders (along with inevitable sequel); In the days of ISIS v. the western world; in the days of environmentalists v. coal industry; in the days of…well, I hope you get the picture. In these days of division and heated division, this Bishop calls us to take a journey that few want to travel. He calls us to a journey with one another as “Children of God” rather than any other label we would like to place on others or ourselves. Children of God…working together for Jesus’ Kingdom…that is the calling Bishop Bickerton brings to our memory.

Some will probably want to digitally or otherwise crucify the author for failing to speak boldly about their cause. I have a feeling that will be just fine – the One the author call us to follow on the journey had a similar problem.

I won’t spoil your journey with this book more than that by quoting or giving more examples. I do, however, encourage you to read it. (I even recommend it to other Children of God not of the branch of United Methodism.)

Bishop Bickerton’s ability to use scripture, story, history, theology and nuance of language so well, makes this a clever and enjoyable journey to a better place.

Shoes

I bent over and tied the strings of the shoes and took my first couple of tentative steps in these new dress shoes. Well, new is not right. They are used but they are new to me. A color that is somewhere between Oxford and brown. Soles that are made to last or shoesat the very least be replaced when they wear out.

The first step was a bit odd. There was some tightness on the top of my right foot and I wondered if this was going to be a permanent rubbing spot of if the shoes would mold their way over from their old owner to me. I knew before the day was done, the shoes were still pliable.

What I really wondered about was whether the new owner was pliable as well.

These original owner of these shoes was not a pastor, but I have to say that throughout my life I never met a man who was more an advocate for his pastor than the owner of these shoes. I recall a time that one of his pastors came under attack by anonymous letters and he stood from the pulpit and said, “I will be checking the mail from now on, folks. And any letters that come to this church without return addresses or signatures will go in the trash.” Far as I know, the original owner of the shoes made good on that promise, for the attacks died away and the pastor continued leading in peace.

I recall one time when I came under some criticism as the pastor of the owner of the shoes and this time, he set out to order a load of horse manure and have it dumped on the front yard of the leader of these antagonists. His wife talked him out of it but I found out he had the price and was ready to write the check to have it done.

The original owner of these shoes was no pastor, but he knew what it meant to care for a pastor, advocate for a pastor, and even be angry for that pastor when the pastor could not do it on his own.

The original owner of these shoes was no preacher but he knew a good sermon when he heard it and gave praise where praise was due. The only problem was, you needed to know his scale of praise.

One week, while this shoe owner was out fishing with his family, he caught a fairly impressive 12 inch trout. He was quite proud of that catch and had his picture made with it. A little later in the day, his wife managed to land a 15 inch monster of a trout. The owner of the shoes looked at the fish and said, “Well, that’s decent, I guess.”

Preachers needed to know this. A “good” sermon was just okay, but chances are, if you hit one out of the ballpark, the owner of the shoes would tell you, “That was decent.”

The owner of the shoes which I put on for the first time yesterday, was not a perfect man but he was a man that was after God’s own heart. I cannot count the number of times I saw him sitting in a chair, Bible open, coffee at his side, eyes closed in prayer. Sometimes the shoes would be on. Sometimes they would be off. But this owner of the shoes knew he needed to walk where Jesus walked.

I put the shoes on yesterday and I wear them again today knowing that these are my Dad’s shoes. He passed away in December and my mom cleaned out his closet and asked me if I wanted these shoes – if they fit okay, that is.

Well, they go on my feet just fine. They tie up nice and neat and have even garnered a compliment or two. But I have a feeling it will take me quite some time before they really fit. Maybe they will. Maybe they won’t. But at least I will have the reminder of what Dad was and what I can be.

Tomorrow, I think I will wear them again.