Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Much Obliged

An Inkling
It was less easy to remake me than to make me...  But he who made me by a single word, in remaking me had to speak many words, work miracles, suffer hardships,...  and even unjust treatment...  In his first work he gave me myself; in his second work he gave me himself.  When he gave me himself, he gave me back myself. Given, and regiven, I owe myself [to God] twice over.  Bernard of Clairvaux (12th century French monk)
Profundity hardly needs commentary.  I simply would add that being obliged to God is not a bad deal.  “Obliged” is a word that came to us from the Latin, via French.  Its root means to be bound to, and is the same root from which we get our word “ligament.”  To be obliged to God twice over is to be bound to life itself.
We love to fancy ourselves as fully independent, masters of our own fate, bound to no one.  That fancy was first suggested to humanity by a serpent, and it led to our unmaking.
The same serpent still whispers.  Far better is it to attune our ears to the One to whom we’re now obliged twice over.  For only in taking up that obligation are we finally free.
Much obliged,


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Doctor, Professor, Maestro, and More

An Inkling
He’s not one to brag, so I learned by accident that one of our own was honored last week.  Wally Smith was named the inaugural Florence Neal Cooper Smith Professor of Sickle Cell Research at the VCU Medical School. 
Endowed professorships don’t just fall out of the sky, and this one came in recognition of Wally’s work, both as a physician who cares for particular Sickle Cell patients, and as a world-renowned researcher in the causes and cures of Sickle Cell Anemia.  I just knew Wally as a doc who taught some, and who specializes in Sickle Cell treatment.  So it was fun to learn just how fruitful his vocation has been.  And I’m sure it was fun for his wife Peaches, their three children, his dad, and his brother, all of whom joined his colleagues in celebrating this inauguration.
Did you know Wally did all that?  Many of us didn’t.  We just know him at the church as a gifted worship leader and pianist.  All of this got me to thinking some about vocation.  What do we as Christians believe about vocations – our callings to serve God in particular ways?  Whole volumes are written on this, but I will offer you just a few thoughts to ponder:

  • Part of what it means to be created in God’s image is that we have noble work to do – joining God in tending his creation.  (Gen. 2:15)
  • In our broken world we’re not always clear about our particular calling, consistent in carrying it out, or fully fruitful in its pursuit.
  • In our broken world we all too often make our vocation more than it was designed to be, seeking ultimate meaning and identity in what is but one facet of our service to God.
  • Our vocations are personal, but are not our sole accomplishment.  That is, we don’t discern or practice our vocations without our colleagues and family’s help.  So it was fitting that Peaches, the rest of the family, and Wally’s colleagues were there for this inauguration, for they had a big part in it themselves.
  • All of us have multiple vocations.  For Wally some vocations are (in no particular order):  husband, father, son, doctor, professor, musician, elder, and friend.  He has more.  So do you.
  • Discerning our vocation is not a one and done event in life undertaken as teens as we decide on a career.  Vocations are multiple and shifting through life’s seasons, and most wisely pursued when we listen to the Lord’s directions.
  • And finally, we need Jesus as Savior and Lord in this part of our lives as much as any other – as Savior to deliver us from our propensity to make vocation about ourselves, and as Lord to bring this important part of our lives into our larger calling to serve the Lord in the advancement of his Kingdom.
Wally, we celebrate with you, and we thank you for being a living lesson in the Lord’s gift of vocation.  (Just don’t expect us to cut you any slack around here because of this new title – ha!)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Yes, Even in Public

An Inkling
It’s a scriptural exhortation that I hear quoted all the time:  we must speak the truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  Life certainly works better when we do.  And when we do we certainly offer a better witness to the One who paired truth and love in such winsome ways.
When we encourage each other in this it seems that we always have in mind personal, family, and church relationships.  And those are certainly arenas where truth and love are well paired.  But it’s also essential for us as Christians in the public square.
I was reminded of this by an email I received from a prominent Christian political action group in response to the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling on prayer in public meetings.  The email rightly celebrated the Court’s support for such prayer.  (See my own take on this in a blog last September.) 
But the main purpose of the email was not to celebrate.  Rather it majored in ridiculing the Governor and the Richmond Times Dispatch, who had sided with the arguments of the four Justices instead of the five.  Such chest thumping contempt for opponents may feel good at the moment, but ultimately it only serves to set the truth back and to spawn cynicism about Christian values having a voice in the public square.  And that’s not even to mention the negative effect on our overall witness to Christ.
Yes, even in public conversations, we must speak the truth in love….