Tag Archives: unity

Nearest the Axle, the Spokes of a Wheel Are Nearest to Each Other

My favorite columnist, Charles Krauthammer, passed away in June. When I (very often) miss his wit, wisdom, common sense, and uncommon command of the English language, I pull out his book Things That Matter, a compilation of some of his best columns.

One of those was written in 1999 shortly after Time magazine had named Albert Einstein as the “Person of the Century.” An “interesting and solid choice,” Krauthammer wrote, albeit a wrong one. “The only possible answer,” he continued, “is Winston Churchill.” Why? “Indispensability.” “Without Churchill, the world today would be unrecognizable—dark, impoverished, tortured.” Yes, it would.

Krauthammer noted that Einstein certainly possessed the “finest mind of the century” and was “deeply humane and philosophical.” He even said, “I would nominate him as the most admirable man of the century.” But indispensable? Churchill, not Einstein.

Krauthammer didn’t jump on into postulations regarding any other categories, but one that particularly interests me was settled long ago. The most influential Christian apologist of the 20th century? C. S. Lewis. An “apologist” in this context is a “defender” who writes to logically defend, make the rational case for, the truth of Christianity.

I wonder how many hundreds of thousands of people have read his classic Mere Christianity? And I wonder how many thousands of those have found it to be the catalyst God used to launch their journey into the Christian faith? (Charles Colson of Watergate fame was one of those.)

I’ve long thought that the preface of Mere Christianity is itself more than worth the price of the book. In it Lewis makes it clear that he is writing to highlight the beliefs held in common, all through the centuries, by those in the whole Christian “house.” He is not at all intending to discuss the differences of views from any particular room (denomination). And he wisely writes, “Our differences should never be discussed except in the presence of those who have already come to believe that there is one God and that Jesus Christ is His only Son”; otherwise, we drive people away.

Lewis goes on to note that before publication he sent the second section of the book, “What Christians Believe,” to four clergymen from four different Christian groups to be sure he was on track. A minor quibble or two, but yes, they said.

But the really interesting thing he discovered came from responses after publication. Any serious criticism seemed to come from “borderline people” not seriously involved in any Christian tradition. He actually found this rather “consoling,” an indication that it is “at her centre, where her truest children dwell, that each communion is really closest to every other in spirit . . . And this suggests that at the centre of each there is a something, or a Someone, who against all divergencies of belief, all differences of temperament, . . . speaks with the same voice.”

Are we surprised? A point far out on the spoke of a wheel is farthest from the other spokes. The center point of the whole “wheel” of Christianity is Christ. Those nearest to the axle, whatever “spoke” they’re on, are closest both to Him and to each other.

 

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2018 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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Some Thoughts on Cats and Dogs, Candles, and Romans 14

Getting ready. That’s what Advent is about.

At church we lit the first candle of Advent this morning, and, as I write on this Sunday evening, I’m sitting in a quiet house, enfolded by the warm glow of the light from our Christmas tree.

I didn’t grow up observing Advent or, for that matter, any of the other seasons of the “Christian calendar.” I was unaware that there was such a thing, and in our non- or anti-denomination denomination, there most certainly was not. I was blessed by “our” folks and still love them, but our bunch back then wasn’t even very sure about celebrating Christmas as a “religious” holiday. We weren’t the only ones. Chalk that, and a lot of this, up to our common Puritan ancestors, I think, who tended to be suspicious of both color and celebration.  But, honestly, I need to read more history to be sure I’m being fair with them.

As I grew older, I suppose I became vaguely aware that Lent was a time preceding Easter and, I thought, seemed to have something maybe to do with eating fish on Fridays. What else? I didn’t know.

As is the case with all of us pretty much all of the time, I needed very badly to learn a little more history to be able to make more sense out of the present and plot a wise course for the future. And, as a Christian, I desperately needed to read more church history for the very same reasons.

I also needed to learn some things other members of Christ’s family could teach me if we’d just try to cross over our walls occasionally and visit a bit. Not only do we honor our Lord by doing so (he prayed poignantly for the unity of God’s people, you know, in John 17), we also put ourselves in a position to learn some things. We might or might not choose to make some changes in our own situations, but at least we might come to understand more about the decisions and practices of other folks who love and honor their Lord every bit as much as our own little group does. The guy who said that cats and dogs who try spending more time with each other often find it to be a very broadening experience was on to something.

Differences among Christians regarding the keeping—or not—of special days is nothing new. When the Holy Spirit made it clear that God wanted the doors of his church opened wide to both Jews and Gentiles (the gulf between them was vastly wider than that between, say, a Baptist and a Lutheran) well, you never saw cats and dogs have a harder time figuring out how to live under one roof.

Ironically, then it was the more conservative folks who felt duty-bound to observe special feast days, and folks on the other end of the spectrum who felt perfectly free not to. Read the amazing Romans 14 to see God’s incredible counsel to his kids about dealing with differences. Don’t stand in judgment on each other, he says. Make a decision that you believe honors Christ. In love, let your brothers and sisters do the same. And don’t you kids dare look down on each other or try to make laws for one another! You’ve got one Master. You’re not him.

By the way, it turns out that Lent has precious little to do with fish. Advent does have something to do with candles (and I like candles). But both have a lot to do with preparing our hearts to more fully receive what God is doing. Personally, I like that a lot. Personally, I need that a lot.

 

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

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“What About Folks on the Other Side of the Fence?”

“Teacher,” John the Apostle said to Jesus, “we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us” (see Mark 9:38).

The disciples were royally ticked. They were absolutely indignant, and who can blame them? They’d discovered a fellow casting out demons without a license. They’d uncovered a do-gooder doing good without a permit.

Now John was reporting the infraction and evidently looking for an “Attaboy!” from the Lord for putting a stop to this unlicensed demon-removal.

You’ve gotta give it to John—he was absolutely ahead of his time and thoroughly modern. How could he have known? The time would come when Christians would take morbid delight in dividing and subdividing, walling themselves off, separating one group from another behind massive walls built of the bricks and mortar of hatred and ignorance.

The walls would not only effectively obscure their view of any good being done by folks on the other side of the particular wall obscuring their own field of vision, those walls would also keep them from seeing anything that others who also love the Lord might even be seeing more clearly.

If he’d been allowed to keep that walled-off attitude, the Apostle John could have become the patron saint of any number of modern folks whose toxic approach to religion motivates them to be absolutely proud of small-minded divisiveness and who expect an “Attaboy!” from Christ for doggedly clinging to incredibly stunted and spirit-withering views of the folks they barely acknowledge on the other sides of the unholy walls they’ve built.

But John didn’t get a pat on the back. Instead he got a word of correction from the Lord: “Don’t stop him!” Jesus said, and (I’m paraphrasing), here’s why:

1) No one who does good works in my name is likely to say anything bad about me in the next breath.

2) Anyone who is not against us is for us, and that’s a very good thing!

3)  And, in fact, anyone who does good to my people will be sure to be rewarded.

“Don’t stop him!” Be glad for the good being done.

John learned a lesson that day, and he seems to have learned it well because it is in John’s Gospel that Jesus’ beautiful prayer, truly “the Lord’s Prayer,” a prayer that Christ’s modern disciples have largely ignored, is recorded. John recalls Jesus’ deep desire for his disciples as Christ prays to the Father, “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:23).

What is Christ’s attitude toward other groups of his people outside of our own doing good in his name?

We don’t have to wonder.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2017 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 

 


Americans Need to Keep Hyphens in Perspective

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As an English major and an occasional copy editor, may I say that the hyphen, as tricky at times as it is versatile (think, confusingly, of dashes, en hyphens, em hyphens, etc.), is a noble and useful mark of punctuation. But it pays to keep hyphens in perspective.

In our present age and culture, the hyphen, too often seen as a mark of division, can serve us better as a mark of unity, all the more noble because that unity occurs in the richness of genuine and joyful diversity, as opposed to the insipid and sterile “politically correct” kind.

I’m just thinking, during this Independence Day week, that almost all of us in America can justly lay claim in one way or another to a hyphen. Some of us just got here. But many others of us are from families who have been in America for generations and are so mixed up genetically that our hyphens might actually extend for paragraphs. Even so, lots of us still have at least some idea of the parts of the world from whence many of our ancestors hailed. Hence, hyphens can happen.

My particular hyphen firmly links British with American. British-American.   I’ve never understood why we rarely, if ever, hear that particular hyphenated term of ancestral description. Prejudice? I don’t know. We hear of Italian-Americans, Polish-Americans, Spanish-Americans, Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, etc. Why don’t we hear of British-Americans? I’m not kidding. I really wonder.

In any case, in my case, the Shelburne & Caudle, Shropshire & Key blood mingling in my veins points back to merry old England. And, for what it’s worth, though I had nothing to do with my birth, I am absolutely okay with that. When I read the words of my personal heroes, like the man singly most responsible for leading in the defeat of Hitler in World War II, Winston Churchill (whose mother, by the way, was American and who himself near the end of his life received honorary American citizenship), I look back on the long history of British-American relations and am thankful for the exceptionally warm ties of friendship and, for most of their histories, faith, that have long bound England and America wonderfully and almost always together.

But what about your own hyphen and your own heroes? I can be happy with mine and at the same time be completely happy that you’re happy with yours. I guarantee you, I’m richer (and fatter) for having feasted on the food, enjoyed the flair, and learned to love a bunch of the customs that have come with lots of different hyphens to the nation that nurtures us all. We are first and foremost simply Americans, hyphens be celebrated or hyphens be hanged.

God, the Father of us all, hates divisiveness. He paid the highest price to unite his children. But he loves, celebrates, and makes possible genuine and joyful diversity of the very best and richest sort. If you doubt that, just visit a zoo. Or . . . America.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2016 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.

 


“Drop Thy Still Dews of Quietness…”

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“Drop Thy still dews of quietness / Till all our strivings cease.”

The words rang out last weekend in a little sanctuary in Springdale, Arkansas. They still echo sweetly in my ears. Their beauty continues to wash across my soul. And I pray, I believe, that the precious afterglow will remain for many, many days. Indeed, I do not think I will ever forget the beauty of that time, those moments as I lifted my voice and heart with people whose love is far dearer to me than life itself.

I don’t remember a time when I more needed to be bathed in the dew of God’s quietness, to feel the mantle of the deep, rich peace and gentle, timeless strength of the Eternal One descend and wrap itself warmly around my soul. His peace is real, his deep joy present, no matter the “strivings” that threaten the vessels of our lives. His course is clear, his path sure, his calm genuine, even in rough waters and stormy seas.

But, oh, how often we need to be reminded! I so needed to feel his hands enfolding mine, to know yet again what is always true, that not for a single moment of my life have I ever sailed alone. Those sweet syllables, lifted heavenward by loving and lovely voices, joined together in a cacophony of words woven from the hymns, prayers, and readings we shared that day, affirming our faith. All rich and resonant, they were polished to lustrous perfection by layer upon layer of years and years of love.

“Take from our souls the strain and stress / And let our ordered lives confess / The beauty of Thy peace.”

The words rolled on, reverberating in rich tones, connecting us in voice, heart, mind, soul with the Author of that peace, the Giver of that quiet, the Father wrapping his arms around us and enfolding us together with his great “cloud of witnesses.”

Who are those “witnesses”? Surely the great heroes of faith whose names we’ve long known and honored. But also so many more whose lives and stories are joined into cords of courage and commitment to become gifts of God to make all his household strong and united.

I felt myself lifted also onto the shoulders of the particular predecessors of my own heritage’s stream of faith, heroes whose lives are graciously blended by our Father into the mighty rolling flood of his eternal kingdom. Even when those specially loved heroes were present in the flesh, breathing this world’s air, I’ve rarely felt their presence more real, their faith and ours more truly woven by the Spirit into one tapestry of blessing.

The words of the hymn I’ve mentioned were written by John Greenleaf Whittier in 1872. How many times as a child did I sing them in church, or as a boy around my family’s table? But I’ve never sung them with a fuller heart than as a worshiper last Saturday. So, “dear Lord and Father of mankind,” yet again for your “still dews of quietness” and the deep “beauty of Thy peace,” I thank you.

   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.


The Unity That Matters Most Will Never Be Open to a Vote

Scotland vote

One of God’s best blessings to us is that we cannot see the future. To do so would rob the best surprises that await us of some deep joy even as it could easily cast us into danger and even despair as we agonized over difficult waters that we have no need or strength yet to navigate.

That said, as I write today, I wonder how tomorrow’s vote will go. By the time you read this, we’ll all know, and the election will be old news.

Oh, you didn’t know an election was being held tomorrow? Well, for you, it’s probably not. Nor for me.

But tomorrow Scotland’s voters will cast a vote “for” or “against” independence for Scotland. For 307 years, since the Act of Union, Scotland has been united with England as Great Britain (later including Wales and Northern Ireland in the United Kingdom). But if voters tomorrow say Yea, Scotland will “secede.”

I have little right to an opinion (although if I wanted a hyphen, I’d be by ancestry an English-American, but I don’t, and I won’t push that!). I do think the Scots should have the right to make the decision.

Hey, I’m a Texan. A 2009 poll showed that two-thirds of Texans believe that when the state joined the United States, it stipulated the right to secede if the need ever arose. (That is actually a myth, though dearly held; the “Lone Star State” does indeed possess the right to divide into five states, should the voters ever so choose.)

And, of course, Texas did indeed secede at one point, but the federal government was pretty ticked off about it.

All of that just jumped to my mind when I read about the referendum in Scotland.

Scotland really can choose to leave the British union. (And by a “simple” majority vote! How simple-minded is that rule when the issue is so large!?)

The decision is theirs. I just hope they make the right one and stay put.

Partly because I love Great Britain, if for no other reason (and there are many) that when England fought alone against the Nazis for over two years, she paid a horrible price, and the world will always be in her debt. What’s bad for England, I do not like. Partly because “independence” may be the Scots’ decision but it holds massive consequences for the British, European, and world economy, for Britain and the world militarily (NATO, nuclear weapons, ports, and oil), and the global fight against terrorism, and more. I mean, really, could you find a more stupid time to do anything, even in the name of freedom, that makes free nations weaker?

I hope Scotland’s voters have enough sense to realize that being free means at times willingly curtailing your freedom to help freedom’s larger cause.

I like it when on rare occasions we see people celebrating what really unites them. It blesses us all when free people actively choose to be more united and not more divided.

Jesus will love the Scots whichever way they go, but even a very quick look at John 17 will show exactly what our King’s will is for unity in His kingdom. No election needed.

 

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

 

 

Copyright 2014 by Curtis K. Shelburne. Permission to copy without altering text or for monetary gain is hereby granted subject to inclusion of this copyright notice.


“Let Us Not Give Up Meeting Together”

 

thanksgiving 003As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, I’m reminded that one of the best blessings enjoyed by the community in which I live is the spirit of goodwill and unity which generally prevails among the churches and pastors in our area. No small blessing, that’s a big reason I like living here.

The community worship opportunities, such as the community Thanksgiving service on the horizon, warm my heart and give me hope. What a witness to believers and unbelievers alike who are sadly accustomed to division in this world but surprised by unity. What a blessing when God’s people come together to celebrate that which unites us.

It may also be a command, by the way. No kidding.

Christians will remember that we are commanded to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4). And, though we treasure the beautiful “Lord’s Prayer,” the prayer of Christ that truly deserves that title is the Lord’s beautiful and poignant prayer for unity in John 17.

Christ was serious about unity. A lot more serious than many of his followers have been. Church history through the ages (and our own sad experience) points to lots of teapot tempests over all sorts of obscure Scriptures, fusses undertaken while the combatants, “biting and devouring each other,” ignored the Lord’s very clear, very plain, plea for unity.

But the passage I have in mind right now is not Ephesians 4 or John 17 or any of the other “landmark” passages on Christian unity. No, it’s Hebrews 10:25: “Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

You thought that was about going to church, didn’t you? Well, it probably is. I’m quite sure that in principle it applies to our attendance at worship in our own congregations. We’ll bless ourselves and our fellow worshipers by being committed enough to Christ to be serious about being at worship. If we become lax in that regard, our faith is in more serious jeopardy than we might think. (See the next few verses, Hebrews 10:26-31, if you doubt that.)

But, if you do a little study, you’ll find or recall that in those “early church” days, Christians in a given community met in “house churches,” small groups all over the area. (Hmm. I guess in that regard it was a lot like us. No big signs, though.) Did they ever all come together, all of the house churches with each of their pastors (collectively, the “elders” of that city)? I don’t know. It’s an interesting possibility, though. Those whose hard study has earned them a right to a worthwhile opinion say that church history is murky about those details.

But I know it’s good for us to do that once in a while. I wish we did it a lot more often.

It just might be a command. It would certainly be a blessing. Whenever it happens even for a little while, it’s a good thing.

“Let us not give up meeting together.”

 

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

 

Copyright 2013 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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