Mentored by the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen, and Victor Frankl.
Reads diversely: Dr. Seuss to Calvin, Tolkien to L'Amour.
Music: U2 and so on Bach.
Writes Prose: Bittersweet and hopeful; Poetry: sharp and pointed; Devotionals: Relevant and Biblical.
How I trooped back to church through Rock with some monks.January 2021
After forty years of church, seven as a pastor, I lost my religion.
I wanted nothing to do with it. I was frustrated, burned out, and angry. Depression and anxiety overwhelmed both medications and counselling. The anger was rooted in hurt, disappointment, and tiredness. It led to behaviour “unbecoming a pastor”, storming out of meetings, or swearing at an elder.
These have consequences, rightly, and sadly so. I was retired for health reasons, burnout and depression. Thankfully, this allowed me to retain my ministerial credentials. An irreverent Reverend. Some desired stronger consequences, which I admit, had some justification.
After forty dutiful years – church attendance, Christian Schools & Colleges, Catechism, Small Groups, Seminary, and pastoring – I was free falling, with further to go.
I was bad to the bone in the province of stinking thinking. To make ends meet I drove transport, long haul. Its cab, was my cell, jail and monastic, retreat and remand. Here, I wrestled with God, swamped in self-pity. I believed no one could understand my despair and humiliation. I grieved for a job I’d loved and lost, more than I’d done for any person. Talk about stinking thinking!
I was going through a “teenage rebellion” in my forties, or midlife crisis. So I turned the Rock up loud, from the fifties to the naughts, and beyond. The defiant screams, heart-broken anger, and biting lyrics with raucous guitar riffs and heavy back beat, articulated my state of mind for several years.
Chuck Berry, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Sammy Hagar, Styx, Trooper, Bob Seger, Bruce Springsteen, Bryan Adams, John Couger Mellencamp, and of course, U2 & Midnight Oil, plus others.
They did what no one else could do, stick with me, in a living hell of heart and mind. Providentially, they were backed up by God, through the prayers of my Men’s Group, spouse, family, and friends.
Eventually their prayers infiltrated the driving rock lyrics to say, “Hey Mister! It’s a beautiful day, don’t let it get away! Someday you’ll get it right! But today, as a man in motion, start taking care of business again, provide for your faith life, stop letting the four strong winds toss you about, feel the hand of God reaching out for you, making your own Northwest passage.”
God did not speak so inarticulately. Yet, overtime, He impressed that and more on my heart. I began salting my Rock with Cistercian Chant. Then one day I noticed I was praying for others. Then rock was joined by Jazz, Western, Classical, followed some time later by Fernando Ortega, John Michael Talbot, and Newsboys. Gradually church attendance crawled from 5 times/year, to once per month, which stepped up to twice per month, then I was back into a steady, weekly pace. I was in church again!
I told my men’s group, “I really don’t know, how I got from where I was seven years ago to here. From a mental hell, to something beautiful today, not quite heaven, but at least walking on sunshine more often than not.”
Their response, “Remember, we prayed for you…, A LOT!”
Have I found religion again?
Well, I’m not free falling anymore. My faith’s been restored. There are things I don’t like, so I raise a little hell with God, who changes me to see something beautiful despite the ugliness.
Some beautiful things are I am now at home in not one, but two congregations, and two small groups. Plus, I work part-time for my denomination again. All faithful, not perfect, like me, partnering with God to change the world to the place where the streets have no name.
“How do we get there?”
“It could be a name, yet, it’s a thought that changed the world.”
Did mine, thanks to Rock and monks, I found myself still in the hands of God.
It was for three wise men in the Bible (Matthew 2:1-12). They were eastern scholars in the tradition of Daniel and his friends from Babylon. The wise men saw in the movement of stars and planets the birth of a Jewish King. Today some think this was the Great Conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter, that happens every 800 years.
We may think “superstitious” reading such connections between planetary movements and world events.
Yet, God guided them through their astrological education. He led them on a journey to Bethlehem to present gifts to Jesus, a toddler at the time. An act of adoration and worship. In the Bible others too looked to the stars and worshipped!
In Psalm 8, David looked to the expanse of stars, and wondered “What is humanity that You are mindful of them?” He saw both the stars and us as God’s handiwork. He saw our insignificance in comparison to the vastness of creation and worshipped a God who was yet mindful of him.
Like David, people today look to the stars and planets, some through astrologers’ horoscopes. They see in their movements a direct influence on their lives, the why and how for their good and bad experiences.
When you look to the stars, what do you see?
Some see what the wise men saw, movements predicting and influencing world and life events.
Others connect them into constellations. They see their movements in relation to earth’s orbit around the sun, marking times and seasons.
Still others feel themselves shrink beneath the vast, ever-expanding universe all around and over us.
And some see all these and more. They perceive the God of the Bible. He comes to them in a journey across a wilderness, within or without. Here they gain wisdom and knowledge through lived experiences, and encounters with God. These shape their lives for good, even through the bad.
You can see God in the stars because He made them. He created them to mark the seasons and times, thus they also mark our celebrations and festivals during the year. But before these secondary marker lights existed, God was The Only Light! David saw that! I pray that you may too. May the stars point you to an infinitely creative God, who influences your journey for the better as you come to worship Him through Jesus.
The distance between then and now is not great, yet the difference is. From a previous post we know the power of ‘yet’! ‘Then’ was like being covered in a damp grey rag, trapped in a valley with overhanging hills, and low lying cloud. ‘Now’ is a day open to possibility. It is a high plains panorama, where dusty green landscape steps across horizon’s line to take flight into azure skies. Now is when the black dog has run off, and the dove has returned that is hope.
Hope is a will-o-the-wisp, intangible, ephemeral, yet oh so real. You know when it’s there and when not. It is a gossamer string pulling one into the future towards a place of realization. That is hope!
Real but unrealized, yet oh so needed to keep moving forward!
How did such a great change occur over so short a distance?
Why did the black dog run off, and the dove return?
Change in medication is part of the answer, maybe the whole part. If so is hope a chemical, as simple as having enough serotonin in the brain, perhaps? Besides a new medication, there were new experiences too while waiting for the medications to have their full effect: Attending workshops at the Employment Education Centre, meeting with a job coach, redoing my resume, attending a job fair and joining a writer’s group. These were significant in getting me to review and appreciate my abilities. It helped me realize I still have things to offer despite my illness, and the seeming disappointments, plus failures I’ve had in my life up to this point. So others were harbingers of hope for me during this difficult recovery time.
In Genesis Noah sent out a dove three times. It returned twice, the second time with an olive branch. The third time it did not return as the land was now dry enough to find materials to build a nest. Noah’s hope was realized: They could now leave the ark.
Like this dove hope is out there, even when it is not immediate. But to feel this, ah, that’s key, perhaps it’s as short as the distance between one medication and another on a pharmacist’s shelf, or it’s the distance traveled to join a group, or it’s both, or none, or more. It depends as depression affects each person differently as the link to the following article suggests: We may have different breeds of the black dog.
How many daily, wondering how to do so as painlessly as possible, and with the least impact as possible on those they love?
Perhaps, on a cold winter’s day, driving a secluded stretch of highway, just pull over, and walk out into the woods as far as possible, to lie down, and fall asleep, never to wake again.”
I once did.
I did not!
I did not take that final step to flee my pain, fear, and anxiety, constantly stinging like a swarm of bees. Butterflies are the popular, more bucolic metaphor. But I had bees, swarms of them, not yet killer, but man did they sting! At times, I didn’t know what to do with myself, insides flailed raw like with a cat-of-nine-tails. That’s when suicide seemed appealing!
Yet, I did not.
Well, it wasn’t me hanging on for dear life. Yet, I’m still here. There’s that word: ‘Yet!” Just three small letters, but together they lift more than their weight! They hit above their fly-weight class! “Yet” can have a big impact on any sentence! “Yet” signals a change, could be positive, could be negative. As in “we did all we could yet he still died”. Or “he’d given up all hope, yet he was saved”. Granted, “yet” does seem slightly questioning, whether at the beginning or end, of one’s sentence.
Yet…, I’ll take it, questioning and all!
The positive power and presence behind my yet is God. He did not let me go! That’s why I’m here, yet. I could not by my own bootstraps pull myself up, and cling to life, yet God did, and does pull me up! That’s the Biblical reality of Sovereignty and Grace, packed into that three letter word “yet”.
Yet, Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) came at sovereignty and grace from the negative side in his sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”. He was a Presbyterian theologian influenced by two Johns, Knox and Calvin, plus the more austere aspects of their theologies. He described us, and I paraphrase him loosely as ‘worms dangling helplessly by a thread over fire’. The footnote below may put a better spin on this with more context. But they are self-flagellating, terrifying images, bordering on abusive in the wrong hands!
Now, there’s Biblical truth in what Jonathan Edwards wrote. Yet, it’s not the whole truth. A more positive spin (Really all theology is a form of spin) a more positive spin, or gracious spin, is God, with Jesus’ nail-pierced hands holds onto us, pulling us from the deadly flames of hell into the fiery warmth of His light and life. He does so even with us kicking and screaming, as C.S. Lewis wrote of his own conversion. Yet, He did not let go of him and does not let go of me. God is the only reason I’m still here, yet, no question about it!
 The imagery in the first part of the sermon graphically underscores the theme of the lot of the unregenerated. They should not deceive themselves about their status or their strength. Their vaunted trust in their own wisdom, prudence, care, and caution is but a self-delusion and will not save them. Before God’s almighty power, they are but “heaps of light chaff before the whirlwind” and “dry stubble before devouring flames.” They are like worms that crawl on the earth and are easily crushed underfoot; they are hanging as by a slender thread that is easily singed or cut. The glittering sword of justice is whetted and is brandished over their heads. The flames of the fiery pit below them rage and glow, hell’s gaping mouth is ready to swallow them, the devils like hungry lions are straining to get at their prey, the arrows of death are poised at them. What Edwards tries to pound into his listeners is the notion of life’s uncertainty: Death is always but a breath away.