The Sojourner

 

 

In the epic poem,  The Odyssey, Odysseus returns to his home island after being absent for twenty years. Because the suitors have taken possession of his home, he must return unrecognized in order to attack them by surprise. He arrives home disguised by Athena as a beggar, and he goes to the hut of Eumaios, the keeper of pigs, in order to plan his attack on the suitors. Not knowing who the beggar is, Eumaios treats him with courtesy and feeds him and gives him a place to sleep. When the disguised master thanks his servant for being kind, Eumaios responds, “…rudeness to a stranger is not decency.”

 

During the years that I taught Homer’s great poem, I required my students to memorize such lines as that of Eumaios and those of other characters from the poem.  The students then had to relate the chosen quotation to their lives by demonstrating a basic understanding of the quotation and explaining how it was still relevant in their post 2000 world. However, my students and I not only discussed what Homer had to say about hospitality to the sojourner, but also what other ancient writers such as Paul meant when they told followers to  “practice hospitality.” In the ancient world, sojourners needed safe and clean places to spend the nights because the few available inns were full of bandits, prostitutes, and vermin. So, for safety, a traveler looked for a kind person such as Eumaios to share the long, dark night. I suppose, as my students will attest,  in some ways we are all sojourners at times. At various moments in our lives, we have been that traveler looking for a safe haven for a night, a day, an hour even. And, oftentimes, we have looked for that friendly face to offer us warmth and kindness and understanding about our travels.

 

Homer’s use of the lowly swineherd as one of two servants to help his long absent master is, I think, a choice of genius. As many readers may know, a pig parlor is not the most elegant place there is. Raven’s Rock, the home of Eumaios, was a smelly and rather vile place a long distance from the manor house. The swineherd undoubtedly would have smelled much like his charges. And, because of his position he would have held a low rung in the social order of his time. Yet, this low ranking citizen, like the widow in the Gospels, gives out of his poverty, not his wealth. This seemingly low citizen is the one of the two servants who had remained loyal to his master and helps him rid the manor of the selfish suitors.

 

All of this and more has been on my mind as I watch a group of concerned citizens try to build support in the county for a program to help homeless children with families. These last few days of damp, cold wind have brought on new urgency to help. However, I worry that too many church attendees will choose to turn away from this  need. I know that some church groups have stepped up and offered to be host sites. I appreciate that some church groups are helping the hungry and homeless in other ways. What I can’t understand is how some church groups find reasons not to help.

 

Practicing hospitality causes inconvenience. It means changing routines. It means inviting strangers who may be downtrodden into our spaces. It means being empathetic. Practicing hospitality means sharing time and talk with people who are in need of a hand up. Practicing hospitality can cause you to, as I heard a pastor say last June, “think of what you can give instead of what you don’t have.” Practicing hospitality is an opportunity for personal growth in a faith walk. Practising hospitaltiy means that we Christians step up and take care of the less fortunate. To do otherwise means that we are just “pew sitters” who attend service to feel better about ourselves. Are you the Christian more worried about the new floor in the fellowship hall or the one who cares about some homeless child?

 

Early in The Odyssey, the sage Mentor speaks to the citizens of Ithaca (Odysseus’ home island) about the suitors taking over the manor of Odysseus and the injustice of their action. Mentor laments

 

 

the violent plundering of the great leader’s home, but he then goes on to say, “What sickens me is to see the whole community/sitting still, and never a voice … raised.”

 

There is a need in our community. If you choose, you can find many reasons not to help end that need. However, I offer you one good reason to step up and help. Again, the answer comes from ancient literature written by a tax collector turned disciple: go read Matthew 25:35-40. Then ask why you should not step up and help.

God’s Gingerbread

 

Our Victorian farmhouse had some gingerbread, but the ones in the town of Edinburg had much more. As the town was being settled during the 19th century, the houses were built having decorative gingerbread all over, even in the porch rails. However, on a guided tour  of Cape May, New Jersey, the guide told us how the gingerbread was designed to cast shadows that were to be admired. From then on, while admiring Victorian gingerbread straight on, I also looked for the shadows it cast on the house. The guide’s  shared wisdom gave all gingerbread from then on a new dimension.

Across the road from where I ride, is a planting of crepe myrtles in Brenda’s yard. They have not suffered, as the Grumpy Gardener says, “crepe murder” so they branch out from their base. The multiple branches gracefully move upward, and they produce limbs that intertwine with all. Left as designed by our Maker, they are beautiful trees, even when bare of blooms. The mature ones across the road are planted in a large bed of seven trees that form a right angle. A row of  five, then two at a right angle.

This morning’s ride was earlier than usual and getting out sooner offered a new scene of the yard and area. The sunlight filtered through the many  pines in our yard and ended, at first light, on the crepe myrtles across the road. Shadows abounded. The planned tangle of their limbs cast a rainbow of shadow. They shadowed each other, the  ground, and the brick side of Brenda’s house. As the sun rose more, its light captured the other four crepe myrtles of the planting and soon Brenda’s yard was a cast of crepe myrtle shadows in  vertical, horizontal, and angular softness.

Over my seventy-two years of living, I have admired various gingerbreads. The houses of Cape May, New Jersey offer outstanding examples.  The gingerbread in and around Edinburg, Virginia, which was made by Jim Sheets, is good, too. But what I saw this morning is best of all. I think it is the early Church Father Tertullian who writes, “Nature is the teacher, the soul is the pupil.” Finishing my ride, the sun higher in the rich, blue morning sky, I looked at the fading shadows across the road knowing that man’s gingerbread is good, but God’s is better.

The Dipoxylon

 

A curiosity greeted me this morning as I prepared to ride my stationary bike which sits on an out-of-the-way section of our driveway. On the right and front sides of where I ride, grow fourteen large pine trees, so the ground, since it is early November,  is being covered with pine needles. They usually lie on the ground, but as the sun light slowly illuminated more of the dusty ground, I noticed several that had landed with their permanent stuck in the ground, causing them to be erect, not prone like most of them. Seeing one or two standing tall, led me to seeing more of them, and soon I had counted over a dozen with the weight of their permanent holding them fast in the morning sun’s  light. As I rode, I wondered….

Each needle from our trees has two or three fascile and the permanent. The vast majority lie on the ground until my friend Mike rakes them for transfer to his garden for mulch. Yet, I reasoned that the weight of the permanent would be enough to give it first contact with the ground. Depending on many factors, the diploxylon would either stand or lie, but few manage to be erect in the soft soil.

Riding more caused me to wonder more. I was seeing only pine needles. Some standing. Some not. Yet each of them has a permanent, which means each has the tools necessary to stand, but is dependent on natural circumstances. But we Christians are not dependent on natural circumstances, and we have free will which can serve as our permanent.

But how many of us stand in the soil of modern America? I fear that few of us obey The Sermon on the Mount. We may read it (yet I  question that), but do we follow it? Do we love each other or shout, “Raca,” to anyone who does not look, speak, or think like us?

God has given us our permanent which grounds us if  we allow it. However, do we land upright or just fall over because resisting gravity requires effort?

 

 

 

Porch Lights

 

This morning  as I  prepared my stationary bike for my ride in the damp, dark morning, I  noticed our front spot light was still on and made a mental note to turn it off. Mounting the bike, I hoped that I would remember.

Growing up in the 1950s of the South, all the mill houses, like ours at 312,  had front porches that ran the width of the house. Chairs of various types would always be available for relaxing, and often porch swings, which would comfortably accommodate two adults or four playful children,  hung by their chains from brackets in the porch ceiling. Always painted white, the swings waited for a family member or members to “sit a spell”  and rest or visit with a neighbor who happened by. After dark, they sometimes held young lovers who pushed gently back and forth whispering, snuggling, and maybe kissing—until a parent in the house turned the porch light on as a signal that it was time for the boy to  leave and the girl to come into the house.

The porch light of 312, where I grew up, was a bare bulb screwed into a white, porcelain fixture. Usually white, the 25 or maybe 40-watt bulb, would be replaced by a yellow one during the hot months because mosquitoes and other unwanted bugs would not be as attracted to it as the white ones. Because the houses had no air conditioning the front porch became an extension of sorts for the family or living room where the cooler temperature of a hot summer day could be enjoyed. The dim,  porch lights were turned on at dusk  and  turned off at dawn. Not as majestic as a  lighthouse beacon, they served the same purpose- to guide sojourners by their 25-watt bulbs.  Those bare bulbs led family and visitors through the dark and into the house.

I did, for once, remember to turn the front spot-light off following my ride. The back  one, which illuminates the kitchen area, was turned off earlier. Our house, like all in our neighborhood and most neighborhoods today, has no front porch or, at best, has an outside vestibule large enough to stand while unlocking the front door. Modern homes are mostly built far from roads making contact with passers-by impossible,  and the climate controlling system in each makes the desire for outside cooler air during hot, humid Southern nights obsolete. But modern homes have improved on the dim porch lights of post WWII America. Like ours, all or most, have spot-lights that come in several models, wattage, and other choices. Ours are operated by a switch in the house, but we could have ones that are motion detector controlled, dawn to dusk controlled, cell phone controlled, or with other systems. But the porch lights of today are installed for other reasons than the types I  grew up with.

The modern porch light is designed to repel. It is a beacon, but one that shouts, “Go away, or the house alarms will signal the police to quickly come.” It does not invite the sojourner but is a Maginot line sold to make us feel safer.

There was a time in our lives that such home defenses were not needed, but those days slipped away. We now live in a culture of home invasion, purse snatching, and more. I do not fault homeowners for protecting their homes and family, but I question why our society has fallen to such a level that some are so brazen to invade a  home or snatch the purse of  an elderly woman in broad daylight. What bred in some people such bitterness that led to desperation then vile action?

Just as with the outside lights, I am like many people. But instead of lights, I  am thinking about The Sermon on the Mount, which before this week I would have assured you that I had  a solid understanding of, until I began reading Clarence Jordon’s explication. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus says, “ Whereas I say to you that everone who becomes angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; and whoever says ‘Raca’ to his brother shall be liable to the Council.; and whoever says ‘worthless reprobate’ shall be liable to enter Hinnon’s Vale of fire.” (Hart)

These are strong words that cause  me to wonder if one reason we feel a need for stronger porch lights and such, is, as Christians (individually or collectively), we have shouted “Raca” to many of our citizens? Have we and do we look at Christian brothers/sisters and think “worthless reprobate”?  If so, then we have marginalized our fellow Christians and are in danger of being  cast into Gehenna, regardless of our porch lights and alarm systems.

When I Visit I Speak English

When I Visit I Speak English

A Guatemalan family visiting in Lovettsville, Virginia is accosted by a white female hiding behind sunglasses. The woman demands that she be shown their passports and says the family should stop being freeloaders “on America.” For almost a minute she rants and tells the family to  go back to “your ******** country.” Why? Because the visiting family was speaking Spanish. The restaurant removes her, banning her, and the Loudoun County police come and the attacking woman leaves. End of story and its brief casting on several news outlets.

Being interested, I went to the Lovettsville site on my computer and learned that German immigrants had settled there in 1732. Under the early history of the town, I read this: “These German-Americans were fiercely patriotic in the Revolutionary War, and also later during the Civil War. The Lovettsville area voted overwhelming against secession (88 percent opposed) in 1861, and, along with Waterford (a Quaker community), raised the only organized military unit from the present state of Virginia which fought for the United States of America: The Independent Loudoun Virginia Rangers.” If I knew the address of the sun-glassed attacker, I would send her that short paragraph. But, would her mis-guided rage keep her from understanding the significance of that history?

American history has many examples like The Independent Loudoun Virginia Raiders, but many incidents arise today like the one in Andy’s Restaurant in Lovettsville.  For example, next to Lincoln Highway in Chester, West Virginia a Confederate flag flaps from a pole and beneath it is a Trump flag. Confederate flag license plates for sale are displayed next to Jesus license plates for sale. South Carolina not only has “In God We Trust” on its state issued license plates but its legislature wants to display the same slogan in every public school. (South Carolina is not alone in this religious fervor.) A news’s clip shows a man on a flight from Spain to England ranting at a black woman sitting next to him. He became so verbally violent that the elderly woman had to be moved. And more and more. But each incident is soon viewed as not news-worthy, forgotten by us all, until another situation showing overt racism soon comes along.  We watch it or read about it and utter, “How sad,” or “What a shame,” or “Will this never end,” or some other such comment. Our comments and reactions accomplish nothing. They may make us feel a bit better for some kind of  reaction, but we take no real action.

When I taught Dr. King’s essay, Letter from the Birmingham Jail, I also had my students read the  one-page newspaper letter that he was responding to. The public statement of April 12, 1963, which was signed by eight local clergymen, was “An Appeal for Law and Order and Common Sense”. The letter stated that Dr. King’s demonstrations were “unwise and untimely.” I don’t know if Dr. King was aware of the Independent Loudoun Raiders and their fighting for the Union, but I am glad that the raiders and he did not wait for a timelier time to act.

In Galatians 2, St. Paul writes of his challenge to Peter, one of the Twelve, for his hypocrisy during the Agape, or Love Feast. The Jewish law allowed for only one chosen people, at this time the Church was opening its doors to any who Believed. Slaves, gentiles, Jews, all shared in the fellowship of the meal. Then one day some Jews from Jerusalem and used the name of James (unjustly) to persuade Peter to stop sharing the Love Feast with the non-Jews. St. Paul did  not wait for a timely time. He did  not form a committee of citizens “with their knowledge and experience of the local situation.” He, to put it bluntly, “got in Peter’s face” and challenged him for his hypocritical act. I am glad that St. Paul did  not wait for a better time and wrote later in chapter 3 that “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Racism is alive and well in America. Just because we twice elected a black  president, we are not racist free. Small, everyday events and displays across this land show how well hate is doing in our country. As Dr. Clarence Jordan said in a sermon, “…most American are seeking the mind of the President and not the mind of Jesus Christ. They look to the decisions of the Supreme Court, not to  the dictates of the Sermon on the Mount. We listen only to law, and spurn grace. We act from compulsion, and not in the ways of love.”

Let’s remove all the printed slogans of “In God We Trust” and start living as if we trust in God. Let’s remove all the symbols of hate and act in the ways of love. Let’s remove all the “Thank You, Jesus” signs from our yards and aid our neighbor. Let’s become disciples of the true and one living God and do, not talk.

 

 

 

 

Sweeney Turns Four

 

The earth’s rotation announces the coming of winter, and on this late October night some areas in the mountains had frost. Because of the rotation, I turned my stationary bike form facing southwest to facing southeast. I can now better see what we call sunrise. It is worth the change.

Exercising in the chill of a fall morning always been a delight. I like the first chill as I begin because I have dressed for when I am  in full  mode, not beginning. While chilled at first, this morning as I gained my second mile I began to feel  blood flow. One walker coming by asked if I  was not cold. Bundled in layers and even wearing a hood, I knew that she would not comprehend my logic on such a morning, so I just yelled “No” to her innocent question, feeling more warmth spreading in my body.

And, because of my new position, I witnessed the warmth of a late October sunrise. The tall, straight pines gave way to the lake far off across several lawns. Mist, heavy from the clash of  warm water and chilled air,  rose from it like brushstrokes across the  air. Rays of sun’s light filtered through the dark tree trunks, warming the heavy-dewed grass, to, before the morning was finished,  melt it away. In Dana’s yard stands a dogwood tree that was on fire. Surrounded by dark pine trunks, its red-orange foliage flamed like a bonfire in wilderness. At first chilled, like the morning, I rode into a soothing warmth following the eternal rhythm of mornings.

Our young neighbor turns four today, and this splendid morning is one of many that we wish for her. She calls out “Mary Ann”, “Roger,” then runs to the fence to make some announcement. A good worker in the shop, even having her own workbench, she knows how to hammer, use the drill press, and leave her area in order. Mary Ann and she play hide-and-seek, but she has difficultly hiding because of her excitement.

Four! So young, so smart, so polite. Like the sun’s rise, the mist, the pines, and the blazing dogwood tree, Sweeney is a delight and blessing for her two elderly neighbors.

Happy morning and birthday, you gift from God.

“… the greatest….”

 

“Any guy who can do a body slam, he’s my candidate, he’s my guy.” President Trump endorsing Representative Greg Gianforte who pleaded guilty to assaulting a Guardian reporter in June 2017.

“I’m not on the ticket, but I am on the ticket, because this is also a referendum about me,” Trump boomed this month at a rally in Southaven, Miss. “I want you to vote. Pretend I’m on the ballot.”

“Though we like to carry around a pocketful of coins on which is inscribed, ‘In God We Trust,’ [and some state license plates] we actually put our faith more in the material upon which this is inscribed than in the God  to whom it pays tribute.” Dr. Clarence Jordan in his sermon Incarnational Evangelism.

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”

St. Paul writing to the Corinthian church concerning Christian conduct.

As much as I try, I cannot reconcile Christians supporting a person who says the first two quoted words. As much as I try, I cannot understand Christian leaders supporting the major political leader of our nation. Yet, the two quotations above were received by cheers from the listeners. I am caught between my reading of the Bible and their support of President Trump, a known liar and ego-maniac.

In a discussion with a self-taught pastor and supporter of President Trump, I asked the man how as a Christian he can support President Trump. Jerry said,  “God has used bad people before to do good, and He is using Trump to get this country on the right path.” Any serious reader of the Bible knows that Jerry was correct in his statement, but is President Trump, I asked, listening to God or himself. With that Jerry and I agreed to disagree and went on to discuss his latest removal as a pastor of a local church. However, Jerry is one of  legions who support President Trump and firmly believe he is making our country “great again.”

Many people in my life circle-neighbors, relatives, church members, friends, and more are strong supporters of President Trump. I do not know the heart of some of these folks, but I have a strong sense of the hearts of several of  them. And their support of President Trump causes me to mourn for them, me, and us. I  have siblings who think, like Jerry, that President Trump will “make America great again.”

In my reading of the struggles of the early Churches, I am struck by the similarities between, say A.D. 50 and today. During the first century, the Gospel was attacked by Gnostics, Judaizers, and even magicians, to name a few enemies of Christianity.  Christians had to be aware of treachery, twisting of language,  and firm in their belief. Today, Christians still need to  be wise and not be duped by offers “too good to be true” and promises that cannot be fulfilled and a system built on fallacies not cornerstones.

It seems to me that we need a national revival based on Scripture that shows us how we can have faith in God, not worldly things, hope for  a better life, and love for all, especially the widow and poor. We need to mourn for our pitiful lives and work to improve them. It’s all right there  in Scripture, and we need not desire to live in a state of perpetual excitement. That is a “striving after wind.”