Monthly Archives: September 2015

Pope Francis’ Visit Points to the “Great Divide”

 

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Pope Francis is here. By “here,” I mean, in the U.S.A.  By “is,” I mean right now as I write on the first day of autumn 2015. I pray that his visit is a blessing.

What? You’re surprised that a Protestant pastor would pray for the Pope? Why wouldn’t I? His leadership and decisions affect over a billion people. Yes, I am a Protestant, meaning basically that I “protest,” as in, “am not comfortable with,” some beliefs and practices of Roman Catholicism; but, by the way, I also “protest” plenty in the religious tradition in which I was born, and some folks there would certainly “protest” me. Forgive me if I smile and see some balance here.

Okay, back to the Pope.

I don’t think Pope Francis is planning to visit our Grand Canyon, but he’ll certainly be visiting face to face a far bigger canyon, one he deals with every day.

You see, one of the largest and deepest “divides” in our world centers on authority and the nature of truth. People on each side of that canyon seem almost completely incapable of understanding folks on the other side.

Most people, at least in the western world, and virtually all of the mainstream media, cannot understand how anyone, from the most common worshiper to the Pope himself, can believe in a standard of truth and authority that comes from beyond themselves and is not open to change, no matter how they feel about it.

Our society looks at opinion polls and the latest trends for what it believes. Even a majority of the Supreme Court justices seem to like that approach these days with the Constitution. It’s very nice if you find yourself and your own opinions in line with the most recent and most popular polls and trends.

This Pope is well liked. Polls show that most Americans in general have a “generally favorable” opinion of him. Me, too. (I could wish he’d say less about climate change and more about the slaughter of the unborn.)

The fact is, he and I, and anyone who believes that truth is rooted in an unchangeable God and not in polls and trends, stand on the same side of the canyon. We may disagree on which truths are unchangeable, which the Bible attests to, and what place church tradition plays. But, strange companions though we may be, folks like the Pope as head of the Catholic Church, and Pastor Billy Bob down at First Protestant Megaplastic Megachurch, and anyone who believes in a divine standard of truth, are on the opposite side of the canyon from folks who seem to think that as soon as an opinion poll shows that most folks would like the sun to rise in the west, or would prefer fifteen wives, then, well, let’s just make it so.

So the Pope is always assailed by folks who don’t understand why he doesn’t just modernize and get up to date with the majority of popular opinion since the majority is always right, right?

But the Pope, and many Christians, many who differ with him hugely on some points, share this belief in common: What is true, what is right, is rooted in an unchanging God. That which is most genuinely and deeply true in the universe God created will never change because He will never change. No matter what I think about it.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Dear God, How Could You Let This Happen?”

 

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We’ve all had times when through our pain and tears we ask, “Dear God, where are you? How could you let this happen? How long can you stomach this kind of atrocity before you break in and do something to stop it?”

Maybe it’s a senseless mass murder on the order of the 9/11 attack. Or maybe no famous skyscrapers have been felled but through the suffering or loss of someone you loved more than life itself, your whole universe has crashed in and you are amazed that the sun still comes up every morning as if nothing had even happened.

“Dear God,” you cry, “how can you be both all-loving and all-powerful and allow such pain and evil to endure?”

It is an excellent question. What’s harder for me to understand than why we ask such questions is why we wouldn’t, though even if God were to detail the reasons he allows pain (and miraculously enable us to comprehend), I doubt we’d like the situation more.

To skeptics who point to pain and say, “See! There is no God and there are no answers!” I’d say, “You are wrong.”

To Christians who mouth plastic platitudes, “Well, it was just God’s will, and real faith is  happy to blindly trust and ask no questions,” I’d say, “I  think you are wrong” even though I affirm with all my heart that faith is indeed all about trusting God. But it was God who made us capable of asking such questions. (Just spend some time in the Psalms if you think the faithful don’t ask such questions of God and, at times, ask them in deep anger and perplexity.)

Why does God allow pain? It’s one of the Top Few biggest questions of all. I think author Wendell Berry gives an important clue when he shows Jayber Crow, his main character in the book by the same name, mourning the loss of a young man from his little town killed in Vietnam. Jayber asks, “Why? Why didn’t God just come down and put an end to such horror?”

Then Jayber realizes the same question has been asked before. When God did come down, we hung him on a cross and taunted him, “If you really are God’s Son, come down!” As he showed us the depth of his love, we dared him, “Show us your power!” Thousands of times since, we’ve demanded the same thing, but “Christ did not descend from the cross except into the grave.” Why?

Jayber says through tears, “I knew the answer. I knew it a long time before I could admit it, for all the suffering of the world is in it.” Why didn’t Christ come down from the cross? Why doesn’t God break in right now?

“He didn’t. He hasn’t, because from the moment He did, He would be the absolute tyrant of the world and we would be His slaves. Even those who hated Him and hated one another and hated their own souls would have to believe in Him then. From that moment the possibility that we might be bound to Him and He to us and us to one another by love forever would be ended.”

He loves us too much for that.

Where is God in our pain? Even when we hurt too much to believe it, God is hurting with us, grieving more deeply than we can possibly understand. In our darkest times, “God grieves and Christ’s wounds still are bleeding” because of his love. And the power? It comes, too, but later. Even before the amazing power of the resurrection came the almost incomprehensible power of love freely, willingly, given for all.

 

      You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


All Genuine Joy Is God’s Joy

 

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All genuine joy is God’s joy.

And that’s my defense, if I need one, for my new music album (For Sentimental Reasons) that comes out this week.

The album’s already passed the real test: my biggest fans like it. Those would be, of course, my grandchildren.

My four-year-old grandson, more than capable of singing for you a fine, though a bit unusual, medley of “Long Black Train” and “Let It Snow!” (his two favorite songs from my previous albums), has announced that his favorite tune from the new CD is “It Had to Be You.” Nice choice. Since I sing this song as a duet with his mother (who did an incredible job), I was particularly pleased with his choice.

My newest grandchild, a sweet little girl, is just a month old; it’s too early to expect her to review the album verbally. But her parents have recorded her reaction to the songs. I smiled as I watched the video review they sent on her behalf.

At first, she’s fussing a bit, working her way up to a pretty loud cry, but then Mom and Dad start playing the album. Startled, she cries harder for about two seconds, then quietens, snuggles down into the music. I like to think she’s recognizing her PawPaw’s voice, but one thing’s sure: hearing the music, that lovely little lass settles down right before my eyes and sinks into sweet sleep. I love it!

I’m not sure if this music will be that potent an anesthetic for most folks, but if it provides just a little bit of sweet relaxation for many who hear it, I’ll be very pleased. The world needs more of such. More peace. More calm. More beauty. More deep joy.

In the album “liner notes,” I wrote this: “What a privilege to work with so many amazingly talented folks to make this album! Our prayer is that every note sung and played in these sweet old songs is filled with the genuine love and deep joy of the Author of all real love, all real joy.”

I mean what I wrote. You see, my first love will always be singing songs with words that point overtly to God’s love, but real love, real joy, all come from the same Source.

I never thought I’d make a recording composed of some of what have been called the “Great American Songbook” songs, some of the sweetest old “love” songs from, say, the 1920s to early 50s. Of course, some songs from that era have words I just can’t sing. But the ones I chose, I dearly love to sing. Even the ones that may be a little long on “syrup” are sweet musical treasures it’d be a shame for our world to lose.

Don’t worry! I won’t be singing “Unforgettable” or “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons” as offertory hymns. But when I do get to sing them, it’s no stretch at all for me to thank God with every note for his gifts of sweet music, a little precious peace, and calm, and, I hope, joy.

Any words, any music, any smiles and gifts and laughter that honor our Lord do not need to be stamped “religious” to truly be God’s.

All real joy is God’s joy.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com! (Yes, some info about the new album is there, and a sample or a few!)

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


Some Honest Questions Seeking Honest Answers

 

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I’ve tried to resist writing this column. Maybe not hard enough. May I say early on . . .

First, reality in general and history in particular, are rarely as simple, clear-cut and tidy as many folks would like to think.

Second, the winners of wars get to write most of the history. (Although I might mention here that one of the finest analyses of the American “Civil War” I’ve ever seen was written by Winston Churchill in a section of his excellent book, A History of the English-speaking Peoples.)

Third, just because the majority of the mainstream news media and other purveyors of political correctness believe something passionately does not even usually make it true.

The recent Confederate flag brouhaha (coming on the heels of real tragedy) reminds us that, though it’s amazing that the scars from the bloodiest war in our nation’s brief history have healed as well as they have, storms make the wound ache.

The best medicine for most wounds is honesty. Finding honest answers usually means asking honest questions of folks who are qualified to answer. I’m not qualified to answer, but here are some genuinely honest questions I’d like to ask those who are.

Slavery was surely far worse, far more brutal, far more evil than most of us can begin to imagine. I wonder if the Civil War actually hastened its real demise.

I wonder if the gasoline to which the match was set wasn’t really the clash of two different ways of life, northern industrialism and southern agrarianism, a clash that ended in explosion.

I wonder if it’s not far too easy, too simple, to say that the blue hats were the white hats and the gray hats were the black hats, good and evil lined up against each other.

I wonder if folks in our nation today can ever understand an age when good people who would be willing to die for this nation could love their states first and even be willing to go to war to defend them. We can hardly imagine that “United States” was once a plural.

Which brings me to Lee and Lincoln. I wonder how two of the finest men this land ever produced could find themselves on opposing sides. This alone would make me wonder if the line between the good guys and the bad guys is as clear as many find easy comfort in thinking.

I wonder if the prevailing politically correct opinion that the soldiers of the Confederacy fought primarily for slavery and the soldiers of the Union fought primarily for freedom is accurate.

I read a short article this week mentioning (try this title on!) “The Rt. Rev. Major General Leonidas K. Polk, CSA.” Polk was Episcopal Bishop of Louisiana, and, almost before he knew what was happening, was commissioned as a Major General. His soldiering didn’t stop his preaching. He baptized Gen. John Bell Hood and Gen. Joseph E. Johnston. Struck by a shell, he died in the Battle of Pine Mountain, Georgia, on June 14, 1864.

Can we be pardoned for thinking that there were some very fine, some very bad, and, mostly, some very human and ordinary folks on both sides of that terrible war?

One thing seems clear. At the end, some of the very best folks (in my estimation), Lincoln and Lee, were united in calling for mercy, healing, unity, and grace.

It’s a call we all still need to heed.

 

 

        You’re invited to visit my website at http://www.CurtisShelburne.com!

 

 

Copyright 2015 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


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