When others so speak

It is not at all easy to hear unkind words from your critics, or to hear unkind things said of those you know or love.  What should you do in such situations?  I hesitate to offer any easy, pat answer.  I have no such advice, and confess my suspicion of those who advise in such a way.

However, I offer to you the closing words of E. L. Jorgenson’s “Publisher’s Paragraphs” from the January 1934 Word and Work:

…while reserving the right to deal with error, we would not want to fall into the awful (though common) mistake of negative, critical, destructive teaching as our main stock in trade.  This is an error into which those fall, almost unconsciously, who have no real constructive message from their own study–in order that they may still have somewhat to say.  May the Lord deliver us from such a style; and from all unkindness of spirit toward all.

As to any personal reflections and aspersions directed our way, such scribes are to us, in this character, as if they did not exist.  The editor of W. & W. [R. H. Boll, MIce] rarely reads their fulminations.  His message could well be: “I am doing a great work, so that I cannot come down.” (Neh 6:3.)  If some have taken advantage of our policy of silence on these lines, we nourish no bitterness: in a very little while they shall answer to God.  Meanwhile, and for this new year–

“Let us pray that grace may everywhere abound, … And a Christlike spirit everywhere be found.” Amen.  E. L. J.

Were we to follow Bro. Jorgenson’s course, we would first of all search our own hearts: do we have something constructive to say?  Is our spirit unkind?  Do we nourish bitterness?

The temptation to return fire is strong, but is it Christlike?  Even when we may rightfully speak truth, do we do it defensively?  With anger?  Spitefully?

Indeed, friends, we will encounter all manner of uncouth and unkind characters, from every quarter, but as we go about our lives, privilege the soft voice of Christ amid the din of competing self-interested voices.  May we be slow to speak, slow to be angry, and when we speak–even when we are offended–let our speech be seasoned with salt, and grace, and peace.

As bro. Jorgenson indicates, R. H. Boll was too busy with what he considered a vital and constructive work to pay any attention to a noisy detractor.  So, the second question we could ask ourselves is How busy are we with kingdom business? The need remains great; in the face of the deep need about us will we allow ourselves to be distracted by some crass remark?  Will we be so easily deterred from the mission of the kingdom?

If he ever needs me, I’m sure I’ll be too willing to assist, but God has not sought my opinion or judgment.  He has reserved judgment for himself; I cannot allow myself to be consumed by presuming prerogatives which are not mine.  He has given me a mission focused on his kingdom.  E.L.J. pursues mission and leaves judgment to God.

I find bro. Boll and bro. Jorgenson so very helpful.  I never read WW without receiving a blessing.  I hope you have as well.  The quote above is from E. L. J. “Publisher’s Paragraphs”, Word and Work, January 1934, 1-2.

Little Sisters of the Poor

“Something for the poor, please, in God’s name,”[1] begged the Little Sisters of the Poor as they sought, door-to-door, relief for the sick, the poor and the aged. Canvassing the neighborhoods and business districts, they served Catholics and non-Catholics alike in what was likely the first religious home for the aged poor in Nashville.


A Community devoted to good works and mercy on behalf of society’s neediest, this order was founded in 1633 in Paris, France.  Often called the “Grey Sisters” due o their distinctive blue-grey habits, their work consisted of establishing hospitals, schools and asylums across France and Europe.  Their tasks consisted of providing hot meals, education and spiritual care.


Rising at 4 am for Mass and prayer, the remainder of their days was spent in direct assistance to and on behalf of the poor and aged, pausing only occasionally to examine their consciences, meditate and pray.


The society was founded in America in 1809 in Emmitsburg, Maryland.  Taking as their motto the words of Jesus, “So long as you do it to the least of these, my brethren, you do it unto me”, they operated 130 academies, hospitals, orphanages, asylums, industrial and parochial schools.  By 1915 they operated houses in 30 cities from New York to California and from Grand Rapids Michigan to Puerto Rico, including Nashville.


They were called to Nashville by Bishop Byrne as one of his many commitments to social service, charity and education in the city.  Charged with operating a home for the aged poor, they first were located near the Cathedral downtown and then in a former orphanage before locating east of the river near St. Columba’s Church.


Although their building was a casualty of the Great Fire in 1916, the blaze did not consume their spirit.  To escape the fire, one sister carried a resident from the building on her back.  After the fire they relocated to South Nashville to a new facility. 


Note: this short essay was greatly improved and expanded for publication by Barbara J. Baltz, Archivist, Catholic Diocese of Nashville.  What you read in the book is much better than what I have here.

[1] Thomas Stritch, The Catholic Church in Tennessee, The Sesquicentennial Story. Nashville: The Catholic Center, 1987, 272.

Home for Christmas

Having spent several days with Laura’s family, we are now safely back home in brown, wet–balmy even– Middle Tennessee.  We left Nashville last week with temps in the 60’s.  Lincoln County, MO had highs of about 12 Sunday and Monday.  We skirted some ice and freezing rain (fine by me) and missed snow (disappointing) only to return home to temps in the lower 60’s.  We had a great time and we are glad to be home.


Some time ago Josh Graves blogged about those whose place at our tables will be emtpy this year.  This year in our family there are several empty places:  Ellay May Ice (Mac’s grandmother), R. C. Thompson (Laura’s grandfather), Tommie Roberts (Mac’s great-aunt), and Areta Ice Hartman (Mac’s great-aunt).  As life moves on we come to difficult moments of death and separation.  Holidays without them remind us of the pain of ‘good-bye’ ; at the same time they afford us an opportunity to love here, now.   Alert communities of faith can make these unbearable moments more bearable and even redemptive.  Josh’s post moves quickly to the Lord’s Table, and I think his comments are well-put.  One example of how a congregation can act redemptively is described here by Bobby Valentine.  After reading these two posts I am more and more and more disappointed that with all the opportunity to minister in redemptive ways, many will revert to (so-called) Christmas sermons about why Jesus wasn’t born on 25 December.   We can do better than that, and I think Josh and Bobby have some things to say that will help us do better.

good for the soul

You should read Mike Cope’s post on the Ex-Demoniac’s Testimony.  As I’ve come to expect from him, it is a word well-crafted in which the warp of the biblical text and the woof of his own story intersect.  The intersection makes for powerful and nourishing reading.  At one level his own story is an entree into the biblical story (this is the very move that makes for good narrative preaching).  But at another level, aside from sermon form or strategy, he speaks the gospel to our hearts.

So, to anyone who would inquire about what ‘narrative preaching’ is or should be, I’d point them here.  Narrative preaching isn’t telling a lot of stories, or neglecting the biblical text in favor of illustrations.  Such isn’t narrative preaching, rather it just poor preaching.  Narrative preaching enters into the world of the text and connects our stories to its Story.  The two are not the same, and the former is not a fair characterization of the latter.  But that’s not the point.  The point is that for anyone who needs to hear a good word, this is essential reading.  What he’s shared with us is good for the soul.

Bobby, John Mark and Henri

I’ve been following John Mark’s and Bobby’s blogs concerning their divorces, and the web of emotions, of questions, of theology, and of ministry in which they find themselves.

I hurt for my wounded friends. You can look through about the last month’s worth of blogs for their respective stories (see http://www.stoned-campbelldisciple.blogspot.com/ and http://www.johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/). They each refer to several books they have found helpful. I’ll venture another to the list: If you haven’t read Henri Nouwen’s The Wounded Healer, you should. It ought to be required reading for every Bible and religion major and every seminarian. I think I’ve read it, or in it, about a half-dozen times in the last ten years. I plan to reread it again tonight. Thankfully the day is over, or coming to an end, when ministers were almost universally larger than life pedestal dwellers. To acknowledge the reality that both brokenness and the movement of God’s grace are the warp and woof of ministry is not only healthy for the ‘minister’ but for the rest of us as well. If we do not minister as wounded healers, if we do not minister out of our brokenness and sustained by God’s healing, then pray tell, how else will we minister? And if we as a church will not acknowledge the movement of God’s grace among our broken ‘ministers’, then how will a broken world take seriously the gospel we proclaim? At this point, Henri Nouwen has something to say to us. And I know that out of their experiences John Mark and Bobby will have a good word for us.

Another book that is now at the top of my to-read stack is Rubel Shelly’s Divorce and Remarriage, A Redemptive Theology. I’ve had it for several months, but now I think is the time to take it up. Perhaps tomorrow I will blog a few lines in reflection.


As for other matters: baby is fine, Laura is doing well, Darby is putting the finishing touches on Kindergarten, and Ella doesn’t know what to do with herself since she will be a big sister. Had a wonderful weekend with Laura’s folks. We now own a mini-van. Suburbs…minivan…don’t let the trappings fool you, we’re trying hard to keep our souls. Maybe this week I can till up the fallow ground for this season’s garden. Sunday we’ll be asked to stand up “so everyone can know you” as new members at Smyrna Church of Christ (don’t hold it against them).

A Christian word for someone who is grieving

I have two suggestions to help people think through suffering and grief. Look at the online presence of Mike Cope and John Mark Hicks. Both have lost children to disease and illness. Both are trained and competent theologians and ministers. Both reject pat answers and shallow theology. Both offer instead a word which is at once biblically grounded and theologically substantive, something at once useful and hopeful. Specifically, look on Mike’s blog under the category for “Megan.” John Mark has two sites: a blog and an online publication page. Scroll through the blog; on the Faithsite page look especially under books and articles. I’ve given away several copies of “Yet Will I Trust Him” and “Anchors for the Soul.” Quite honestly, it is the best material on suffering to come from Churches of Christ. I pray it has wide reception and that it helps sufferers.

Grace and peace.