Friday, July 20, 2012

An Out of the Way Place

I've been retired 6 years now and have celebrated my 50th anniversary of ordination.  I want to take to heart the words of Jesus in Mark 6:31: "Come away by yourselves to a desert place and rest a while."  There's no desert handy for me, but the phrase "an out of the way place" captures the idea for me.  While my home right now is far from quiet with lots of company, usually it fits the bill for an out of the way place.  I can go whole days without seeing or talking to anybody.  It is very much what I had hoped my retirement would be after 50 busy years. 
Buddhists teach that a person's life is divided into three parts: the first part for education and growing up; the second part for continued learning, through marriage and raising a family, involvement with the life of the senses, the mind, and the spirit; and the third part a time of withdrawal from responsibility, letting go of the things of this life, letting God take over. (quoted by Dorothy Day in a column in 1975 as she was retiring from her very active life.)
I am encouraged by Jesus and Dorothy Day and the Buddhists to keep true to my original hope for retirement.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Power made perfect in weakness

In 2 Corinthians St. Paul makes an abrupt change in chapter 10 from talking about a collection for the poor in Jerusalem to defending himself against some accusers.  He realizes, he says, that he may sound foolish, but he goes on about all the great and difficult things that he has done.  It is a powerful passage. 
Then in 12:7-10 he talks about "a thorn in his flesh" that he asked God to take away.  God's answer is a great help and challenge for me.  God says, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness."  The "thorn in his flesh" that Paul is complaining about keeps Paul aware that all the good things he has accomplished were due not to his skill but to God's power at work in him. 
There's all kinds of guesses about what Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was.  In 10:1 he seems to be referring to what his critics say of him when he says, "....I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!"  Then in 10:10 he quotes his critics as saying, "His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible." 
As I prayed over this passage, I found myself wondering if Paul's "thorn in the flesh" was stuttering.  It certainly would be frustrating and humbling if a man, who had so much to say and who could put it so powerfully in writing, had a serious speech impediment.  A "thorn" like that would easily make Paul keenly aware that all of his great accomplishments were God working through him.  So Paul concludes, "When I am weak, then I am strong."

Monday, July 2, 2012

Beyond the Law

This mid-morning shot of clouds and sun and ocean feels like freedom to me.  4th of July falling in the middle of the week seems to make the whole week a celebration of our independence and of summer.  There are still a lot of people hanging on after the weekend.
Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of the development of moral reasoning helps me to understand the thnking of the founders of our nation.  Level 4 is the law and order stage where we decide what's right or wrong simply by looking at the law.  Level 5 is the social contract stage which says that the law is necessary, but sometimes to do the right thing, we must go beyond the law.
When I read about the discussions among our founders, it is clear that some of them at level 4 cannot bring themselves to break with the king, the lawful authority.  Those at level 5 grant that law is necessary but in this situation they are convinced that to do the right thing they must break with England.  Gradually I see level 4 founders' becoming convinced of the reasonableness of the level 5 founders' reasoning.  They express their agreement this way in the Declaration of Independence:
"Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes....But when a long train of abuses evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government."
In the Gospels I see Jesus stress the value of religious law and at the same time disobey or ignore the law.  That helps me to see that sometimes to do the right thing I must go beyond the law.  I think, though, that Jesus would fit more exactly into Kohlberg's level 6, where a person acts purely out of inner conviction without any reference to the law.