Monday, April 22, 2013

"Down to the River to Pray"

"As I went down in the river to pray
Studying about that good ol' way
And who shall wear the starry crown?
Good Lord show me the way!"

So sang Allison Krauss and the choir from the First Baptist Church, of White House, Tennessee, on the soundtrack for "O Brother, Where Art Thou?"  They are all inspiring to me...the movie, the song, the artist, the arrangement.

Hold that thought....

The waters were chilly as we stepped off the bank into Coffee County Lake yesterday morning, Rae Walker and me.  But the warm sun and a radiant sense of God's presence provided a beautiful counterpoint to the coolness as we waded deeper. 

Yesterday was an all-round wonderful day of worship, napping, and front-porch sitting, but those brief moments lakeside fill the playback loop in my heart and mind even today.  It was as if the whole experience, lasting only a matter of minutes, was somehow framed by God's Spirit--like the trailer of a good movie--to represent the best of the day, the people gathered, the act of baptizing, and the remembrance of Jesus' own dip in Jordan's green waters so very long ago. 

To be honest, when I went to bed Saturday evening my anticipation was somewhat dampened by the forecast of a 39 degree low for the evening and a very slow warm-up to the low 70s on Sunday.  We had already put off the special day for Rae due to rainy weather the week prior and putting it off again...well, it didn't seem "right"...just because it might be rather uncomfortable in the chilled waters.

But there we stood before a company of family and church friends as Rae confessed those ancient words, "Jesus is Lord!" And on that confession, the baptism was begun and ended all in one fell swoop, literally.

As we walked hand in hand out of the waters, Rae washed from head to toe and me only wet to the waist, it all came together for me.  We had been "off road" with God...again.  Slight physical discomfort was so powerfully outmatched by the warmth of the moment, the sympathetic sensation of Jesus' baptism, the well-pleased faces of the faithful gathered on the bank and heralding, "Then sings my soul....How great thou art!"  Even the squishy sand beneath my feet just seemed...righteously affirming.  Who knew the Jordan ran through Elba, Alabama?!

Life seemed so good and God so very great.  Faith had its smooth edges scuffed by the chill and then reformed by the experience.  Baptism in "the good ol' way," lacking the creature comforts of a heat-controlled baptistery and sanctuary, but canopied by God's grand creation and a sense of being embraced by the Creator, even in creation's cool waters.

Recently someone quoted a Southern writer as having posited that "Air conditioning was the ruin of Southern literature," believing that our retreat from the front porch had so stunted the authentic, if discomforted, perspective of porch life.  I can't speak for the factual nature of the quote nor its source, but the sentiment seemed powerfully accurate to me as we emerged from the murky waters of the lake. 

To return to the more earthy practice of river/lake baptisms has been as rewarding to me as the fresh bread baked for our monthly Covenant and Communion Service, and the homemade scuppernong wine in which we "intinct" our little pinch of the body of Christ.  It leaves me longing for more imaginative, earthy, "off road" faith experiences.  To celebrate worship at the beach or in the mountains as much as the four-walled sanctuary.  To hold up faithfulness in the daily attendance of the duties to which God has called each of us as important beyond our weekly church attendance.  To believe God speaks as powerfully through the experiences of our daily lives as through Scripture. 

Thanks to Rae for insisting on baptism as soon as possible, no matter the comfort!  And to God--thanks for a community of faith willing to take to the trails in pursuit of stronger faith.  "God Lord, show us the way!"

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


According to the US Center for Disease Control ( the following causes of death were reported in the United States in 2010. (2011 figures are still preliminary)  I looked this up trying to find some perspective on yesterday’s tragic bombing in Boston.  The numbers were annual numbers.  Below I have divided by those figures by 365 to determine the number of DAILY deaths by cause.  Here are those figures:

•Heart disease: 1,637 DAILY deaths

•Cancer: 1,574 DAILY deaths

•Chronic lower respiratory diseases: 378 DAILY deaths

•Stroke (cerebrovascular diseases): 354 DAILY deaths

•Accidents (unintentional injuries): 331 DAILY deaths

•Alzheimer's disease: 228 DAILY deaths

•Diabetes: 189 DAILY deaths

•Nephritis, nephrotic syndrome, and nephrosis: 138 DAILY deaths

•Influenza and Pneumonia: 137 DAILY deaths

•Intentional self-harm (suicide): 105 DAILY deaths

That means the top 10 causes of death in America account for an average of 5,071 deaths EACH AND EVERY DAY.  How many of these are completely preventable can be argued, but accidents (331 deaths per day) and suicides (105 per day) account for nearly 440 deaths every day that some measure of prevention might curb.

What is my point?  Every day Americans die at a rate larger than the total number of people killed in the Oklahoma City Bombing, the 9-11 attacks, AND yesterday’s Boston Marathon bombing.  What happened in Boston yesterday was tragic.  The real loss to the families of the 3 dead and the pain, suffering and possible death of many of the wounded is human suffering at its most intense.  But….and for me this is a huge BUT…as freedom loving Americans, we simply cannot yield to the temptation to turn every one of these events – spectacular though they are – into a reason to “throw in the towel” on life as we know it. 

I want the FBI, our Homeland Security Personnel, Massachusetts State and Boston Officials to work tirelessly until the culprits are rooted out and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law – be they Americans or foreigners.  But I also believe we must do our part.  For me, that is an adamant refusal to live in fear or shrink my sense of American possibility.  If tragic death is our issue, let’s do more to reduce the number of preventable deaths each day.  If we just don’t like pain and suffering, life is going to be tough…because every day confronts us with painful realities of family, friends and strangers near and far.

Our Founding Fathers had far more reason to be skeptical of the independent life of a new “United States of America.”  They expressed it regularly, privately and publicly.  But NEVER did they drown themselves in self-doubt and paralyzing anxiety about the task before them.  Somehow, we seem a weaker, less hopeful lot.  And I really don’t understand.  The math doesn’t work.  The realities of the random, and frankly, infrequent nature of these senseless attacks doesn’t warrant our hand-wringing.  And, maybe most importantly, the warp and weave of American life over 230 plus years does not deposit at our doorstep such a legacy of despair.
Join me today.  Enlist.  Sign up.  Be drafted!  Let’s commit to pray for those individual families and lives that have been torn by this tragedy.   Let’s feel the power of national solidarity with the citizens of Boston and all who were in close proximity to yesterday’s event. Let’s always support resources for those who work tirelessly to protect us at the local, state and national level.  And let’s live on…free, proud, unfettered by fear!  Fly the flag.  Hum “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.”   Book a trip to next year’s Boston Marathon.  Stand on the street corner and proclaim it a good day.  Help support research for heart disease, cancer, suicide prevention.  But, for God’s sake, proclaim hopefulness!  It is the Good News.  And, for the last two centuries, it has been the rallying cry of MOST red-blooded Americans!