Chaplain’s Corner: CXXIV

“Sunday Smiles”

 

Author Martha Grace Reece once interviewed a woman who had sat in the front row of her church choir every Sunday for 30 years.   Why do you go to church?  What do you get out of it?

 

Her husband of 35 years had just died slowly and painfully.  Horror stories pocked her memories of marriage and raising her children.  She answered, “Church has always meant a lot to me because I knew that if things got really bad, I could tell someone about it.”

 

Reese asked if she had talked with anyone about anything bad.  “No,” she answered.

“But I always knew that I could have.”

 

It’s ironic that so many of us think of a relationship with God is equivalent to keeping a generator in the storage closet in case the power goes out.  At church we put on our Sunday smiles-lying to ourselves and to each other that life isn’t really a struggle much

of the time.  We pretend that we’re doing just fine, thank you.  We’re keeping our acts together.  We don’t even need God’s blessing.

 

Who are we kidding?

 

The simplest way to describe our standing before God is that we are a flashlight without batteries.  Apart from the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, we’re not going to make it through the challenges before us.  Let alone draw out our next breath.

 

Becoming aware of that stark dependence is the first and most important step in experiencing spiritual vitality. And that means we don’t have to fake it with each other.  After all, in the most important way possible, we’re all equal.  We stand in equal need of God’s grace.

 

The fact that God is so able and willing to share it is the world’s best reason to smile.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: CXXIII

“Finding Happiness”

 

What do you hope to do before you die?  The movie, “The Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson was a movie that generated new and interesting answers to that question.  The movie highlighted what millions of people hope to fulfill in the time they have left before they “kick the bucket.”

 

If you Google “bucket list,” you’ll get almost 100 million hits.  Entire websites are devoted to providing before-the-end-of-your-life guidance.  Many people hope to travel.  They’d like to visit all 50 states or every country in the world.  Some are targeting trips to the Great Wall of China, the Eiffel Tower, the Pyramids, or other spectacular human creations.

 

Others dream of experiencing wonders of nature.  They hope to peer over the edge of the Grand Canyon or watch Old Faithful erupt.  Perhaps they can visit all 63 of America’s national parks.  Bird watchers would like to catch sight of all 11,000 plus avian species on the planet.  Still others hope to scuba dive in the Great Barrier Reef, scale Mt. Everest, or see the Northern Lights.

 

Some bucket listers yearn for things pretty much beyond their control.  Before they die they hope to experience true love, become a grandparent, win the next $2 billion Powerball jackpot, receive a Pulitzer Prize, or watch their favorite sports team win a championship.  In 2016 my bucket list was sure partially fulfilled when the Chicago Cubs won a World Series.  Now we Cub fans don’t know what to do with the rest of our lives.

 

What do all these bucket lists have in common?  They are ADDITIONS.

 

One of the assumptions of Western culture-and America in particular-is that happiness comes by doing more and getting more.  If we just accumulate enough money, or visit enough interesting places, or bring home enough trophies, we will finally win the Happiness Prize.  But there is no evidence this strategy actually works.

 

Happiness is not an achievement.  Enough is never enough.  Accomplishment-oriented people will always yearn for another cruise or that one stamp missing from the collection.  He who dies with the most toys…dies.

 

Instead of wondering how to add more, we can endeavor to be less busy, less hurried, and less overwhelmed by self-imposed obligations.  What if we committed an entire year just to getting better at living out a single verse of scripture?  That verse might be Psalm 46:10:  “Be still and know that I am God.”  Or perhaps Matthew 6:25:  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you eat or drink, or about your body what you wear.”

 

In the process, we may discover that joy was always nearby.  It was just covered up by everything on our To Do List.

 

British author and theologian, C.S. Lewis once observed, “He who has God and everything else has no more than he who has God only.”  Which means our buckets have always been full.  We just didn’t know it.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXXI

“A Whole New You”

 

According to the eighth chapter of the Gospel of Luke, what happened when Jesus led his band of disciples to “the other side” of the Sea of Galilee?  The disciples were probably not surprised that Jesus was immediately confronted by a demon-afflicted man.  Traditionally he is known as the Gerasene or Gadarene demoniac.  Jesus asks his name and he identifies himself as Legion.

 

How did he get in this condition?  We aren’t told.  What does it mean that his name is Legion?  A Roman legion was a unit of heavy infantry that numbered somewhere between 4,000-5,000 soldiers.  Luke tells us he is “legion…because many demons have gone into him.”

 

Here is where people who live in the 21st century run smack into Hollywood Hogwash, especially as we just got through Halloween.  According to the entertainment industry the spirit world is alive and well.  But human beings are a little more than helpless pawns.  Movies about spiritual darkness tend to have ambiguous theology, no ultimate resolution, and feature really scary things happening to people.

 

But the showdown between Jesus and Legion is over from minute one.  The afflicted man immediately falls down and begs Jesus for mercy.  This demon motivation has been to destroy this man-to keep him as far away as possible from the love and grace of God.  But the Bible unflinchingly asserts that Jesus is the Master of seen and unseen worlds.  The demons are powerless in his presence.  They promptly rush down the hillside and into the lake.  The shocking thing is they all drown.  Pigs are excellent swimmers.  But the demons want to create havoc.  By drowning the pigs they cause disaster for the people of the region.  These pigs represented the 401(k) of multiple herders.  The upshot is that these people now associate Jesus not with good news but with a major financial setback.

According to this fascinating text we can experience the transforming touch of Jesus in two ways.

 

First, Jesus is willing and able to do what no one else can do:  He can unchain our hearts, release us from bondage, and send us into a whole new life, just as he did for this one shattered man.

 

Second, Jesus invites us to join him in this ministry of transforming others.  We may be called to journey “to the other side” with him, just as he did with his disciples.  Or we may be called to stay right where we are and make a difference in our present context, which was his ultimate intent for the Gerasene demoniac. Either way, we become agents of God’s reign.  We may not have the power of Jesus, but we bear his authority-authority to help bring healing to a broken world.

 

It’s just possible that the saddest verse in the Bible is Luke 8:37 “Then all the people of the region of the Gerasenes asked Jesus to leave them because they were overcome with fear.  So he got into the boat and left.”

 

Do you realize how much power you have? You have the power to make the Son of God

go away.  All you have to do is ask.

 

Or you can do just the opposite.  Like the demon-haunted man in this story, you can respond to Jesus’ transforming touch by choosing to embrace a whole new way of life.

 

Choose wisely.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXX

 

“Handle Hard Better”

Every day we have two choices.  We can hope that things will get easier.  Or we can handle
life’s hard things better.

That’s the perspective of Kara Lawson, one of this generations most accomplished female
basketball players.  Her resume includes 15 seasons as an All-Star shooting guard in the
WNBA, including a league championship in 2005 with the Sacramento Monarchs.  She was a
member of the US women’s basketball team that won gold at Beijing in 2008.  She also helped
break the NBA coaching gender barrier by serving as an assistant for the Boston Celtics in
2019, and for the past two years has been the head coach of the Duke Blue Devils women’s
basketball team.

Lawson knows from experience that success doesn’t come from waiting for things to get
easier.

“It never gets easier,” she says.  Success is what happens when “you handle hard things
better.”

Her primary goal for her players is that they would become skilled at handling increasingly
difficult circumstances.  “The second we see you handling hard stuff,” she asks, “what are we
going to do?  We’re going to make it harder.”  That’s because greatness comes from facing up
to the myriad of challenges of handling whatever comes next.  “If you have a meaningful
pursuit in life,” says Kara, “it will never be easy.  People are waiting for the easy bus to come
around.  But the easy bus never comes around.”

On the night before his death, Jesus was huddled with the men he had been coaching for
something like three years.  His message was similar:  There’s no getting around the fact that
life is hard.  “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you
have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  (John 16:33)

We can wait for life to get easier.  We can hope that one of these days work won’t be so hard.
Or here at Westminster Village we can find some peace after a lifetime of caring for
ourselves.  Or we can hope prices will go down on the basics of life or there will be an end to
the war in Ukraine.  Or we can hope our bodies will not fail us as we grow older.
But life is not going to get easier.

Grounded by the conviction that Jesus is our never-failing source of peace. Let’s learn to
handle hard things better.

Faithfully,
Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: CXIX

“Fear and Growth”

More than six decades ago, an engineer from Boeing Company boarded a passenger plane driven by propellers.  After introducing himself to the man seated next to him, he began to talk excitedly about the project to which he had given much of his life–the development of the Boeing 707 Dreamliner, the world’s first commercial jet.  He spoke glowingly of the advantages that jets have over prop planes.

 

“So,” his new friend asked him, “have you flown in one of the new jetliners yet?”  “No,” said the engineer cautiously.  “I’m waiting a few years to make sure they’re safe before I actually get into one.”

 

Life is never going to be entirely safe.

 

Do you yearn for an existence in which you never experience fear, and never need to take risks?  But such a life would not be worth living.  The very fact many of you have chosen to come to Westminster Village was in itself a risk.  For some it was scary, knowing you were leaving your former home and in some cases community and coming to a whole different experience.  I am sure there was some level of fear–just the unknown of what lay ahead.

 

Fear and growth go together like bacon and eggs.  As long as we want to grow-as long as we’re willing to embrace change-there will be an element of fear.  We will always need to take risks.

 

Eileen Guder writes, tongue-in-cheek, “You can live on bland food as to avoid an ulcer, drink tea, coffee, or other stimulants in the name of health, go to bed early, stay away from night life, avoid controversial subjects so as to never give offense, mind your own business, avoid involvement in other people’s problems, spend money only on necessities and save all you can.  You can still break your neck in the bathtub, and it will serve you right.”

 

The decision to grow always involves a choice.  We must choose between risk and comfort.  The scary but undeniable truth is that in order to change and grow, we must renounce comfort as our ultimate value.

 

The world may not be safe.

 

But for those who trust God, the world turns out to be entirely secure.  “The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms.”  (Deuteronomy 33:27)

 

Fear may be the traveling companion of change, but that doesn’t mean it gets to cast the deciding vote concerning your next step in life.  After all, at some point you’ll need to find your seat, buckle up and fly.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXVIII

“Seek the Truth”

Like most kids, I grew up hearing Christopher Columbus was the man who bravely stood up to the religious superstitions of the Dark Middle Ages.  Ignorant people-deceived by Catholic priests-were certain the world was flat.  If you sailed to the edge of the Earth, your ship would plunge into the abyss.  Thus the Church’s most esteemed prelates opposed Columbus’ plan to sail west across the Atlantic in search of India and the Far East, for the common-sense reason that every sailor in such an expedition would be lost.

Columbus, however, felt certain that the Earth was round.  And he proved it by ignoring his culture’s prevailing myths, choosing instead to be guided by the brighter lights of science and intellectual curiosity.

Therefore his name has bestowed on two U.S. capitals, our nation’s federal governmental district (D.C.), a nation in South America, the westernmost province of Canada, and even the second Monday in October, compelling banks and post offices to close their doors to commemorate the guy who stumbled upon the New World.  That’s how the story is told.  But it turns out to be complete rubbish.

To start with, Columbus had no need to “prove” that the earth was round.  The sphericity of our planet had been affirmed by the ancient Greeks at least 300 years before Christ.  No one seriously doubted it, including major theologians like Augustine and Aquinas.  Columbus appealed for the financial support of Ferdinand and Isabella, the Spanish monarchial couple.

That’s not to deny that a few people still clung to the notion that the earth was flat.  A few people still believe that today.

Columbus had no quarrel with the church.  He himself was a faithful Catholic and was confident that his voyages glorified God.  He did misrepresent the distance from Spain to Japan by sailing west.  Columbus, using fuzzy math guessed it was about 3,000 miles.  It was more than 15,000 miles.  But that point turned out to be moot, since his progress was impeded by a hemisphere he never anticipated.

So how did Columbus morph into a modern pro-science hero who stood up against the embarrassing ignorance of close-minded priests?

The “Flat Earth Error” was kick started by American author Washington Irving (1783-1859).  The man who invented Rip Van Winkle and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was devoted to the Enlightenment notion of progress-that history, properly understood, would show a steady climb from the foggy depths of mythology to the clear mountain heights of rational thinking.  A number of progressive historians followed suit.

Once we get certain ideas into our heads-perhaps at an early age-it’s hard to shake them.  That might include the way your Mom loaded the dishwasher.  The counsel that you should always buy a used car instead of a new one.  And the assurance that you can only trust one side of the political spectrum.  And not-really-truisms like, “God helps those who help themselves.”

What can we do to keep ourselves from defaulting to worn-out ideas, discredited notions, and less than perfect ways of seeing the world?  Study.  Read.  Ask questions.  Challenge your own convictions.  Take a deep dive into Scripture.  Seek new insights.  Talk to God.

“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you”  (James 1:5)

This we know for sure:  Christopher Columbus, despite all the concerns associated with his voyage, was an exceedingly brave person.  And we can be sure that the God of all truth will always honor the bravery of the one who seeks the truth-and is willing to follow the clues wherever they lead.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXVII

“The Source”

Henry Ford lived his entire life within a dozen miles of Dearborn, Michigan where he was born.  Ford is arguably the most successful industrialist of all time.  His primary culture-shaping contribution–the car he named the Model T–rolled off the assembly line for the first time on October 1, 1908, when he was already 45 years old.  At the time, there were some 2,200 makes on the market.  But the Model T left them all in the dust.

Ford’s production numbers defy imagination.  Within four years, 75% of all the cars on the road were Model Ts.  In 1910, it took 14 hours to build one.  By 1913, assembly required only 90 minutes.  A car, truck, or tractor rolled off a Ford assembly line somewhere in the world every 10 seconds.  Model Ts were romanticized as the greatest invention of all time during the first quarter of the 20th century.  The original models had no speedometer and no gas gauge.  The car’s unique “planetary transmission” had two forward gears and one reverse, and took a long time to master.  The headlights were notoriously dim at low speeds but could explode at higher speeds.

So what made the Model T so charming?

Every one of them was practically indestructible, easily repaired, strong enough to pull itself through mud and snow.  Model Ts are chiefly remembered for their SAMENESS.  Apart from minor variations they were all alike.  You could have any color as long as it was black.  Car parts were interchangeable.

SAMENESS is comforting.  Standardization of food service, travel and human experience in general has become an expectation.  SAMENESS rules.

But SAMENESS is not the rule in the Jesus-following life.  The Apostle Paul makes this bedrock statement in I Corinthians 12:4-6:  “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.  There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord.  There are different kinds of working, but in all off them and in everyone is the same God at work.”

Notice where SAMENESS is found.  It relates to the SOURCE of human greatness.  We receive what we need in life from the same God (the Father), Lord (the Son), and Spirit.  Our personal experience, meanwhile is DIFFERENTNESS-different gifts, different kinds of service, and different kinds of working.  People are not interchangeable.

We didn’t all roll off the same assembly line.  Every Christian carries the DNA of discipleship.  God is the SOURCE.

That is expressed in a variety of ways.  Some are students, some sing, some do mission, some are great at hospitality, others by example teach us all to experience the love of God and love others as Christ loves us.  Here at Westminster Village I hope you will examine your gifts and allow your unique gifts to be used here among your fellow residents.

No one knows how or why the Holy Spirit leads different members of God’s team to function in such different ways.  When you get to Heaven God isn’t going to ask you why you weren’t more like Martin Luther or Augustine or Francis of Assisi or Billy Graham or Mother Teresa.  He’ll ask why you weren’t more like YOU.

Your spiritual enablements, opportunities, and differentness are exactly what the world needs.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: CXVI

“The Holy Grail”

With the passing of time a great number of legendary stories have become attached to King Arthur who has been dead for 1500 years and whose very existence has been questioned by numerous medieval scholars.  Today there is a veritable industry of Arthurian lore.  Since 1980 at least 5000 new Arthur-themed books, films, articles and memorabilia have hit the market every year.  You can buy Excaliburgers, Barbie and Ken dressed as Arthur and Guinevere.  Camelot wallpaper, and a cutting edge comic book adventures of the knights of the round table.

Then there’s that most iconic of all Arthurian pursuits, the quest for the Holy Grail.

No consensus has ever emerged as to the Grail’s actual identity.  It is usually imagined to be a cup or a serving dish.  One tradition says Arthur and his knights hoped to find the cup from which the Lord Jesus drank at the Last Supper.  Another declares the Grail to be the vessel that Joseph of Arimathea used to catch the blood of Christ at the foot of the cross.  Dan Brown’s best seller “The Da Vinci Code” proposes that The Holy Grail is a person-a physical descendant of Jesus himself.

Where can The Grail be found?  In Europe, perhaps, or somewhere in the Middle East.  Some say it’s hidden in Britain, right where Joseph of Arimathea left it.  What power is it supposed to have?  One tradition suggests that The Grail can heal all wounds and impart the gift of eternal life.

Scientists speak of The Holy Grail of physics-finding a way to unite quantum mechanics with Einsten’s theory of relativity.  The Holy Grail of cancer research will snuff out every malignancy without suffering.

The Arthurian legacy of The Grail is the quest-the search for something worth finding, something worth understanding-a lifelong pursuit that yields surprises and adventures along the way.  If human beings can agree on anything, it is that the meaning of life matters.

Unsurprisingly, the Bible is not silent on the issue.  Here’s a key text from the Old Testament:  “God says, “This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses.  Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him.  For the Lord is your Life.”  (Deuteronomy 30:19-20)

And here’s a key text from the New Testament:  Jesus said, ”I have come that you may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)  The meaning of life, according to the Judeo-Christian scriptures is to know love, and to serve the one true God, so that we may know love and serve one another.

Christ-followers believe that there really is a once and future king.  His name is Jesus.  Having come to his people to die for their sins, he will come once again to set the whole world right.  In the meantime, our quest is to know him and make him known.

That’s the true Holy Grail.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

 

Chaplain’s Corner: CXV

“When God Seems Silent”

The most telling argument against Judeo-Christian understanding of the world is the silence of God.

Prayers go unanswered.  Children get sick and die.  Dictators drag their countries into meaningless wars.  Natural disasters claim thousands of lives.

I recently had lunch with a friend who has had enough.  The last two years of his life

have included a series of brutal disappointments.  “I’m through with God,” he said.  “There is no God.  How can there be a God when so many reckless, painful, and absurd things keep happening, and no God ever intervenes to do anything about it?”

This experience is so common that you would think the Bible would have something

to say about it.  Both Old and New Testaments, in fact have a great deal to say about God’s apparent silence, absence and indifference.  Not only that, but history’s most ferocious critics of Christianity-including Voltaire, Bertrand Russell, Richard Dawkins and Friedrich Nietzsche-have not been able to come up with anything more edgy than the bitter complaints voiced by some of the Bible’s key characters.

Job, in the throes of suffering, declares, “From the city the dying groan, and the throat of the wounded cry for help.  Yet God pays no attention to their prayer.”  (Job 24:12)  The Psalmist moans, “Why Lord do you hide your face from me?  You have taken from me friend and neighbor-darkness is my closest friend.”  (Psalm 88:14,18)  God’s own Son cries from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  (Matthew 27:46)

How can we reasonably assert that God is not only really there but actually cares about human beings?  Pat answers will never do.

For those with a complacent faith, the problem of pain can seem like a spiritual deal breaker.  But if we become convinced on the other grounds that God is very real indeed-that an exquisitely designed cosmos reveals the work of a creator; that the historical evidence for the resurrection is (in a word) spectacular; and that God can be intimately encountered through our own experiences of miracles, answered prayers, and personal life changes-then it is reasonable to conclude that God best knows how to manage the universe.

Over a year ago we had a patient admitted to Westminster recovering from Covid.  Many in the medical community said this patient would never walk again.  After a year of physical therapy, nursing care and prayers from the whole Muncie community this patient is not only walking but now is driving.  God does in the seeming silence hear our prayers and often (in this patient’s case) allow us to see miracles.

To put it another way, very often, I don’t know why things happen as they do.  But I

know why I trust God-and God knows why.  That does not take the pain away in some cases.  But it draws me into a deeper connection with the God who promised that one day He will wipe away every tear.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain

Chaplain’s Corner: CXIV

“Small Things Matter”

 

The European adventurers who sailed across the Atlantic in the 15th and 16th centuries discovered a new hemisphere.  But on April 24, 1676, Anton von Leeuwenhoek, without leaving home in the Netherlands, discovered a whole new world.

Leeuwenhoek’s innate curiosity went far beyond the fabrics he peddled as a cloth merchant.  One of his hobbies was grinding lenses.  He created the microscope-then a scientific novelty- that could magnify objects 266 times.  He was curious about the tiny things invisible to the naked eye.  He saw tiny creatures swimming in the water under his microscope.  Hundreds and thousands of them.  For the first time in human history, human eyes gazed upon the microscopic universe in which we live, move and have our being.

Within a few years, Leeuwenhoek had identified bacteria, and mold spores, and red blood cells.  A few drops of pond water he learned hosted a microscopic metropolis of strange creatures-‘we beasties” he called them.  Some of his friends thought he had lost his mind.

What do we learn from Leeuwenhoek’s story?  Some of our most important discoveries happen when we aren’t looking for them.  They are serendipities.  That word comes from The Three Princes of Serendip, a Persian folk tale that dates back more than a thousand years.  Three young men experience one happy adventure after another, even though they’re always hoping for something else.

You may be hoping for the healing of a nagging illness and may be in the process of praying and working for that result.  But God surprises you.  You receive the serendipity of faith you never thought you could have.  Or perhaps the gift of courage and patience.  Or maybe even the discovery that your life can still be complete without that healing.

Leeuwenhoek also helped us begin to understand in a way that no one had ever suspected, that small things matter a great deal.  Human beings typically assume that big things deserve big attention.  That was represented in the history of art into the Middle Ages.  If someone was identified as being theologically or morally superior, that character dominated the canvas, all out of proportion to lesser figures.  Suddenly the world awoke to the reality that a great deal of God’s creation cannot even be seen-and those entities may well turn out to be either important allies or serious adversaries.

Jesus had much to say about the dignity of small things.  According to Matthew 13:3, life in God’s kingdom typically begins with something as small as a mustard seed which ultimately grows into a plant where birds can nest.  That means our relationship with God is likely to rise and fall on little steps, little decisions, and little acts of kindness to which one might hardly pay attention.

In a world that has an outsized fascination with big celebrities, big corporate mergers, and big voices, small things make all the difference in the world.  In the memorable words of St. Teresa of Calcutta, “We may not be able to do great things.  But we can all do great things with great love.”

Anton von Leeuwenhoek would be the first to say that small things are a very big deal, indeed.

 

Faithfully,

Ron Naylor, Chaplain