Friday, July 31, 2009

Somebody Touched Me (Pt 3) The Conclusion

I do not know what it is that makes us reach out in desperation, any more than I know what makes us withdraw in fear. I only know that we stand in constant need of each other, and without each other, we die a little each day.

How do we come to have this need to touch and be touched? I do not know what it is, I only know that it is. Jesus was many things to many people. He was a person so varied that all attempts to describe him in the human dimension fall far short of an adequate explanation. Thus we have come to call him the God-man, or the Son of God. Whatever else may be said of Jesus, it must be said that he was deeply sensitive to the needs of people. And he knew how to reach out and touch those who needed him. It little mattered to him that they were young or old, Jew or Gentile, rich or poor, man or woman, sick or well. He reached out and touched them and they lived. Since we are pledged to follow this God-man, Jesus, should we not go and do likewise?

That is the kind of sensitivity that we, too, must develop for those we serve, and for one another. This is what church is all about. If we miss this meaning of the Gospel, how poor and empty and ineffective our lives and our life together will be!!

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Somebody Touched Me (Pt 2) The Sermon

I am sure this story has many things to say to us, but today, let us see what it has to say to us about what it means to touch somebody, or to be touched. Touching is surrounded by mant taboos in our society. On Sunday mornings I stand at the door of the church and greet the members of the congregation by touching them. But, how I touch each of them is carefully regulated by an unwritten, but well known, law of decorum. How I greet the congregation under that unwritten law of decorum depends on their age, sex, social standing, and their relationship to me as a person. Those who are under six, I may pick them up and kiss them. If they are female and over sixteen, I don't do that. The adult males I will greet by touching their hands, or elbow, or perhaps even their shoulder, but no more lest people think odd of it. Those who are over sixty and related to me, I may embrace them -- carefully -- if they are not too sophisticated. And, on and on, the unwritten code of decorum goes. You know the rules better than I do because I do not always abide by the rules. The most common form of greeting by touch is the handshake, which is a form of greeting that became common in the 18th Century. It was also used in ancient Rome as a pledge of honor. Some say that the handshake was the earliest form of greeting by primitive people. The open extended right hand was intended to show that two people who were meeting had no weapon. It meant: "I come in peace. I mean to bring you no harm; see, my weapon hand is empty." (You could be in trouble by trusting this system if you happen to have a left-handed enemy.)

What does it mean to touch -- or to be touched? It means love. Perhaps that is why we are so cautious about touching. Perhaps this is why we have hedged it about with so many rules and regulations. It is an expression of intimacy that says: "I am open and vulnerable to you. I need you and want to be needed by you." One has to trust and love in order to do that. When I look around and see all of the wounded and isolated people no one has touched for a long time, and who have touched no one for a long time, it makes me very sad. When no one touched us, we may be greatly admired and highly respected, but equally deeply rejected as a person. We need to be touched in order to be reassured that we are loved. The need to be touched is built into the human nervous system. Slice into life at any age or stage and you will find the need to be touched expressing itself in a wide variety of ways. The need is there when we are born, and it continues until we die. For instaance, the clinical history of what happens to little children in hospitals who are seldom touched by human hands is tragic.

When my children were young they came to me in the evenings when I came home to touch and be touched. They wanted to sit in the chair with me -- but they became too old and I got too wide for that. Sometimes I brushed the children aside and asked to be left alone because I was tired and weary of people Do you know what they would do when I did that? (You mothers know!) They turned quickly to their mother, or to each other, or to the dog; and they would sit closeto each other or touch by fighting intensely or loving the dog inordinately; not only to fulfill the normal human need to touch, but to compensate for having just been rejected by their father. If we live in a world where somebody touches us, we can survive many jostles and rebuffs in life.

Age does not subdue the need to be touched. We sometimes forget that elderly people need to be touched too. In fact, the need is often intensified in old age because of deprivation. Have you ever stopped in the hall way of a nursing home to speak and shake hands with people sitting there in their wheel chairs? When you are ready to break off the conversation and be on your way many of these patients will not release your hand. They want you to stay. They love to be touched. Nobody has more beautifully or more classically depicted this need in the elderly than Donna Swanson in her free verse poem, "Minnie Remembers." I never read it but what I see my mother and grandmother, and a thousand elderly people I have known in my ministry through the years Listen.


My hands are old.

I've never said that out loud before, but they are.

I was so proud of them once.

They were soft, like the velvet smoothness of a firm, ripe peach.

Now the softness is like worn-out sheets or withered leaves.

When did these slender, graceful hands become gnarled and shrunken?

When, God?

They lie here in my lap as naked reminders of the rest of this

old body that has served me too well -- if not too long.

How long has it been since someone touched me?

Twenty years?

Twenty years I've been a widow.

Respected. Smiled at. But never touched.

Never held close to another body.

Never held so close and warm that loneliness was blotted out.

I remember the first boy who ever kissed me.

We were both so new at that.

The taste of young lips and popcorn, the feeling deep

inside of mysteries to come.

I remember Hank and the babies.

How can I remember them but together?

Out of the fumbling, awkward attempts of new lovers came

the babies.

And as they grew, so did our love.

And, God, Hank didn't seem to care if my body thickened

and faded a little.

He still loved it, and touched it.

And we didn't mind if we were no longer 'beautiful.'.

And the children, they hugged me a lot.

Oh, God, I'm lonely.

Why didn't we raise the kids to be silly and affectionate,

as well as dignified and proper?

You see, they do their duty.

They drive up in their fine cars.

They come to my room to pay their respects.

They chatter brightly and reminisce.

But they don't touch me.

They call me 'Mom' or 'Mother' or 'Grandma.'

Never Minnie.

My mother called me Minnie.

And my friends called me Minnie.

Hank called me Minnie, too.

But they're gone.

And so is Minnie.

Only Grandma is here.

And, God! She's lonely!"

Somebody touches me and life takes on meaning; nobody touches me and I am enveloped by a pervading sense of loneliness that is beyond words.

The human touch is so basic that it has been called "The Mother of the Senses." In a world filled with stress and strain, we reach out to our loved ones for comfort, but if by reason of indifference or preoccupation they fail to respond, we begin to look for some meaningful substitute for intimacy. We feel pain when nobody touches us, and we subconsciously begin to cast about for some surrogate, though less meaningful, experience to compensate for what we need, but do not have. Perhaps the most common substitute for the human touch is pets -- dogs and cats. I have noticed that many nursing homes now have inhouse animals for the patients to pet--to touch.

Desmond Morris, in his book, "Intimate Behavior," reminds us that in the United States we spend billions of dollars annually on more than a hundred million dogs and cats. Blocked in our human contacts by cultural restrictions, we redirect our intimacy to a love substitute -- pets. If those closest to us cannot supply us with what we need, and it is too dangerous to seek intimacy with strangers, we make tracks to the nearest pet shop, where for a small sum we purchase ourselves a bit of animal intimacy. Pets are innocent. They ask no questions, and they cause no questions. But these additional, or substitute, sources of intimacy are, at best, poor replacements for the human touch. I am not suggesting that we ban pets, because I doubt that the absence of pets would remedy the fears and inhibitions that compose an iron curtain around our lives. For instance, I doubt if the ubiquitous elderly lady in every community, who has forty-nine cats, were to suddenly discover that all of those cats had disappeared, that she would take to stroking the postman when he comes by. When the need to touch or to be touched is blocked, for whatever reason, we nearly always find some substitute. Late-life love affairs are not at all uncommon in assisted living and nursing homes.

How often do you suppose people go to the hairdresser, the barbershop, the shoe-shine parlor, or to the doctor, or to a masseur or a masseuse just to be touched in a socially acceptable way. What does it mean when somebody touches us -- or fails to touch us?

Many years ago I did a sermon on "Touch" in a South Alabama County Seat town church. One of the school teacher members stopped at the door and waited to tell me her own poignant story of the need to be touched. She taught first grade in a section of town where many of the children came from homes where emotional deprivation was common. She said that she had always tried to compensate for what these children lacked in whatever way she could; and for years she had stood at the door each afternoon and touched each child as they left school. Of late, some of the boys had been playing games with her by ducking their heads and running out so she could not touch them. But, she said, the interesting thing was what they would do when they were successful in evading her touch. They would stop and back up so she could touch them. Going or coming, we need to be touched by someone who cares who we are and what happens to us.

The meaning of touch is deeply ingrained in the history and practice of the Christian Church. Paul wrote Timothy: "I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is within you THROUGH THE LAYING ON OF MY HANDS . . . " In ordination I was made a minister by the imposition of the Bishop's hands on my head. The authority to preach and to administer the sacraments was given by touch. Likewise, candidates for church membership are confirmed by the "laying on of hands." Both authority and grace are given by touch -- "The laying on of hands."

Leprosy in these modern times is rare. I doubt that any of you have ever seen a leper. Yet, there are many who live and die in the same isolation as a leper, because they play it safe. They do not let their feelings show and people get the signal that they are "untouchable." Nobody touches us and we die deep down inside -- a little bit every day. You brush elbows every day (but do not touch lives) with people who are entombed in an emotional cocoon from which they will never be set free until somebody touches them -- until somebody cares. Love cannot live at arm's length. There never has been an adequate substitute for the outstretched hand -- the outstretched heart. You cannot heal the hurts of the human heart from across the street any more than you can set a broken arm, or remove an appendix, or deliver a baby from across the street. Redemption for us all awaits that critical moment when the word becomes flesh -- when love reaches across the barriers and the taboos, and somebody touches us. None of us will ever amount to anything until we know that somebody cares, until we reach out in the dark and find somebody there. Somebody touches me and I live -- nobody touches me and I die.

There are two experiences from my personal background that have both haunted and guided me for more than half century, They are not experiences easily shared except with those who are on the same wave length with me. I will risk sharing them with you today.

When I was a student at Northwestern University in the mid-fifties, I served a little Swedish Methodist Church on the southside of Chicago. One of the most senseless murders that took place in Chicago while I was there happened near my little church on 111th Street South. The whole event started with a little boy named Jimmy, who was born to two parents who did not want him. And it did not take Jimmy long to find it out. Jimmy never knew what it was like to be hugged and held close. By the time he entered the first grade, he had become so unmanageable that his school teachers were afraid of him. Nobody decent ever had anything to do with Jimmy. He never belonged to the Scouts; he never went to Sunday School. He had never seen the inside of a church except the two times that he broke in the church.

As a teenager, his deep sense of loneliness, isolation and frustration began to manifest itself in antisocial behavior that got him into many scrapes with the law. Being unable to find any meaningful relationships with the nice people in the community, he applied for membership in one of the southside gangs -- the young "untouchables." They accepted his membership. They even let him buy the gang jacket with the emblem on the back, but they would not let him wear it, until he could prove himself to be as tough as they were. Sometime later Jimmy was with a carload of the boys as they drove down the street when they saw a sixteen year old boy waiting at the bus stop. They had never seen the boy before. Jimmy said, "Stop the car; he is mine." He bounded out of the car with a claw hammer in his hand and beat the boy to the pavement. The boy died on the way to the hospital. Jimmy jumped back in the car and they sped off. They let him put on the gang jacket right then and there, and he enjoyed wearing it for three hours, until the police picked him up. He went through a series of hearings, and finally came to trial for first degree murder. During the trial Jimmy's father was called to testify. He had to walk past the defense table on the way to the witness stand. Jimmy was sitting there surrounded by his court appointed attorneys. As his father passed by, Jimmy spontaneously stood up and reached out to touch him, -- his father drew back in revulsion and fear.

There were no photographers there, but a courtroom artist caught the scene in a line drawing which appeared on the front page of every newspaper in Chicagoland the next morning. It was a picture with no caption, for it needed none. It was a graphic, one-frame story of Jimmy's life -- forever reaching out, but never touching or being touched. Nobody touches me and I die.

The other experience comes of that same time frame, while I was doing an internship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago. It is an experience that was highly personal and mystifying. Each chaplain intern was assigned three or four wards. One of my ward assignments was to the Female Cancer Ward. It was a large open ward of about 100 beds in two rows, with an aisle down the middle. It was late one afternoon that I went back to visit a patient in the cancer ward who was to go to surgery the next day. I really did not want to go. I was tired, and it always drained me emotionally to visit that ward. But I had promised to see this patient before she went to surgery. As I pushed through the doors into the open ward, I noticed that there was a patient in bed #34 who was crying, flailing her arms, and rubbing her body.

From the moment I walked in all the patients began to look at me as if to say: "Chaplain, stop and help that woman." Nobody said anything, they just looked. Have you ever had anyone "look" you into doing something?

My daddy was good at it! I could be out in the backyard playing in the Chinaberry tree, and my sister would come and call: "Tommy, come to dinner", and I never heard it. My mother would call out: "Tom Lane, come to dinner", and I'd say, "Just a minute." My father could push open the back door and just look at me, and I would drop from the tree like a rock.

Well, the patients were trying to "look me" into stopping to help this woman. But I was tired, and I didn't want to get involved. Not only that, but we had an understanding with the Roman Catholics that we would not visit any Roman Catholics and they would not visit any protestants. (It was a sorry understanding.) Not wanting to stop anyway, I reasoned to myself: "For all that I know she may be a Roman Catholic," so I walked right on by. But, when I got to the end of the ward I discovered that my patient had been taken to radiation therapy, and I had to walk all the way back the length of that ward with all those patients looking at me, as if they were saying: "Do you mean to say that you're not going to stop and help that woman?" So, when I got even with her bed, I turned and walked up beside her and said: "I'm the chaplain. How are things going with you?" She paid no more attention to me than if I had not even been there. I repeated the introduction several times. It was becoming embarrassing . She continued to cry and rub her stomach.

The next thing that I did was not a conscious act on my part, but since I could not communicate with her verbally, instinctively, I tried to communicate with her physically. When she slowed down one of her arms, I reached out and touched her hand. The moment I touched her, she grabbed my hand and held it to her stomach. To say that this startled me is a mild expression of my momentary feeling. She held my hand to her stomach for a few seconds, which seemed like an eternity to me. She became still and quiet, and I began to hear whispers from the beds nearest by: "Look at that man of God. He has healed that woman."

This really frightened me, for whatever had happened, I, least of all, understood it. For the first time in my life I began to understand why Jesus said: "Don't tell anybody." In a matter of less than a minute the woman was fast asleep. The moment she relaxed her grip on my hand, I slipped my hand from under hers and took my leave. As I went out through the big swinging doors, I discovered that the ward clerk had been watching through the big window. She stopped me and said: "Chaplain, what did you do to that woman?" I said: "I don't know; who is she?" She said: "She came in about eighteen hours ago, and she has been crying and fighting us the whole time. I said: "Who is she?" The ward clerk said: "Oh, that is Mrs. Rodregius. She is Puerto Rican. She speaks no English and we speak no Spanish, and we have not been able to communicate with her, or get her quiet until you came in. What did you do to her?" I said, "I don't know," and I still don't know. I only know that in my own bungling way, not knowing what else to do, I reached out and touched her, and something redemptive happened, at least for the moment. Somebody touches me, and I live -- nobody touches me and I die. (By the way, it took several weeks for me to quell my unwanted reputation in that ward as a faith healer.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Somebody Touched Me (Pt 1), by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts

A sermon preached by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Minister Emeritus at First United Methodist Church in Monroeville, Alabama on July 26, 2009.

Scripture: Matthew 8:1-4

Introduction, Explanation of Scripture, and Summary Statement

In the ancient world into which Jesus was born, the most dreaded of all diseases was leprosy. It was to that day and age somewhat like aids is regarded today. It was dreaded more than death itself. Leprosy not only had severe physical consequences, it also had social and economic consequences. The worst thing about leprosy was that the leper became an absolute and a complete outcast. They banded together and foraged the countryside for sustenance; and they clung to one another for some semblance of meaningful human relationships. They were required to wear distinctive clothing so they could be easily identified; and when they approached a town, they were required by law to put their hand (or a cloth) over their mouth and cry out the warning: "Unclean -- Unclean."

Even as late as the Middle Ages, when leprosy was diagnosed, the priest would don his stole and crucifix, bring the leper into the church, and there, read the burial service over the leper. . A leper was considered as good as dead, and lived out the eight or nine years that it took the disease to run its course in lonely isolation and complete segregation. No one dared come near a leper for fear of contracting the horrible disease; and a leper dared not come near others on pain of the penalty of the law.

The three Synoptic Gospels each tell an identical story about the healing of a leper in the early part of Jesus' ministry. Listen to the account from the Gospel of St. Matthew. For some reason not known to us, the leper ignored the ancient law that forbade him to approach a well person unannounced. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and said: "Lord, I know that you can heal me if you want to." And Jesus stretched out His hand and touched the man and said: "I so will; be well again." And the man's leprosy was healed immediately.

Jesus then gave the man two directives, the first of which was that he should say nothing to anyone about what had happened. The second directive was that the man should go and show himself to the priest, have the cure certified, and then make the offering commanded by Moses. The Jewish nation was not a democracy, but a theocracy, where matters of church and state were one. The priest had duties that we would consider civil duties. He was the local health officer. It was the priest who diagnosed and declared a person to be a leper, and only the priest could certify a cure and restore the leper to friends and family. Jesus could heal , but only the priest could certify the cure.

I cannot resist the temptation to point out the implications of this second directive. For several years now we have been passing through an era of anti-institutionalism. There are those iconoclasts who think we would have better education without schools; better families without marriage; more justice without courts and a purer faith without the institutional church. And, often this anti-institutionalism has been promoted in the good name of Jesus and on the authority of the Bible. The iconoclast forgets not only the lessons of history, but also the facts of the faith. While it is true that the institutional church tried to destroy Jesus, Jesus never tried to destroy the church. How often, as here upon this occasion, Jesus pointed people back to the institutional framework of the church. Jesus could heal him, but the man needed more than relief from the burden of leprosy. He needed the saving, and nurturing fellowship of the congregation. He needed the familiar forms -- the tangible framework of the faith that could give him strength for other storms of life that were to come. How often we have seen the lines by which we learn from the past -- our roots -- broken by thoughtless persons who think because faith is intangible that it needs no visible expression -- no organized framework of support. Those who break the idols, destroy the institutions, demythologize and explain the mysteries, do no service to faith. Faith is not strengthened by destroying the vessels in which it is received. You can't get a drink of water in a rainstorm. Water must be organized in order to be useable. The institutional church, our myths and our mysteries, are vessels in which we organize and serve the water of life. "Go show yourself to the priest, offer the gift that Moses commanded, get a certificate of your cure." Go back to church.

To the first generation church the essence of the story was the miracle of the healing of an incurable disease. It was told and retold, and finally recorded to further document the divine nature of Jesus as the authentic Son of God -- to wit, he could cure an incurable disease. I do not wish to minimize the miraculous nature of this event. It is obvious; but as important and miraculous in the episode as the healing of the leper is the touching of the leper. He reached out his hand and touched him. Defying all tradition and training; defying all known laws of sanitation, contagion and propriety; Jesus physically touched the man.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Reflection: The Wonder of Love

By Dr. Jim Savage

True Love isn't blind. It Sees everything----the faults, the irritations, the sins----and offers no excuses. Yet in time it reconciles and tries hard to kill the lingering resentments and every wish to humiliate, to hurt, to pay back. ( It's the reason Hallmark and Dayspring provide a line of "I'm sorry" cards.)

True Love enjoys the best, forgives the worst.

Love can be generated. The Pursuit of Love----giving it, receiving it-----makes a Wonder of any Life. Love has a math all its own: the more we expend, the more it multiplies. Love Can Be Regenerated.

"Love is an exotic; it is not a plant that will flourish naturally in human soil, it must be watered from above." (Charles H. Spurgeon)

It is impossible to Love without first being loved. Love is a Communicable Trait.

God's Cosmic Generosity is poured into our world every day. His Love is Alive, Bountiful, throbbing with Creativity.

He unties knotted things and ties up things dangling loose. His Love holds all things together, sustains the universe. It's not a scarce Resource or a rare commodity, but only the eyes of Wonder recognize it.

Without God, there would be no Love.

Those who claim they Know Love without God's help, without a whit of acknowledging Him, have never had their Love tested in a completely godless world. He's there for them, whether they Know it or not.

Those who Know God through their Spiritual Senses, through the Sense of Wonder, say He is Lovable, the most winsome, charismatic Being in the universe. His Love vibrates with Electric Intensity. But nobody could Love God, unless He first Loved us, because we could never Know Him, unless He Allowed Himself to be Known.

To receive an Invitation of Friendship with God is to be Fully Awakened, to come Alive in the Spirit, to Know Love's Alpha and Omega.

"Praise be to the Lord, for He showed His Wonderful Love to me......" (Psalm 31:21)

"Blessed be the Lord, for He has wondrously shown His steadfast Love to me...." (Psalm 31:21)

"When I look at Your heavens, the Work of Your fingers...what are human beings that You are mindful of them.......O Lord, our Sovereign, how Majestic is Your Name in All the earth!" (Psalm 8:3, 9)

"I am only one, but I am one. I can't do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, by the Grace of God, I shall do." (Edward Everett Hale, 1822-1909)

Monday, July 20, 2009

WESLEYAN CORE TERM: Faith of a Servant

Dr. Jim Savage

John Wesley talked about the Faith of a Servant of God in contrast to the Faith of a child of God. Faithful Servants Know their Duty and perform it the best of their ability. Just so, Christians who have the Faith of a Servant Know what God requires and do their best to Obey. Wesley knew that people with only the Faith of a Servant are not certain of their status before God, and they have not felt Assurance of God's Love for them. They could experience doubt and fear as a result. Wesley believed that people could have more than a Relationship with God based simply on Obedience. While he came to Understand that the Faith of a Servant should not be disregarded but rather recognized as an Important Initial Response to God, Wesley also kept encouraging Christians to Seek a higher degree of Faith, which would bring Assurance and thus remove doubt and fear. (The Wesley Study Bible, 2009)

God often sends Good Words and does Great Things by the weak and foolish things of the world.

This reminds us of Christ, the Good Shepherd, who not only ventured, but laid down His Life for His sheep. Our Experience ought to encourage us to Trust in God and be Bold in the Way of Duty.

Faith, Prayer, Truth, and Righteousness; the Whole Armor of God, and the mind that was in Christ, are equally needful for All the Servants of the Lord, whatever may be their Work. (1 Samuel 17:32-49, Matthew Henry)

Monday, July 13, 2009

How Much Do You Know? By Dr. Jim Savage

On some days and at some places in our journey, the demands of life seem overwhelming. We cannot be or know or do or give what seems to be expected of us. The source of demand does not seem to take into consideration our limited resources of energy, knowledge, or money. And, unless we get some relief by a lessening of expectation or a rearrangement of our own priorities, we may withdraw, give up or break down. More often than not, the problem lies more in our perception than in the essential reality of things.

During a national census, a census-taker knocked on the door of a cabin in the remote hills of Tennessee. An old woman with a quizzical look on her face and an oversized dip of snuff in her mouth came to the door. The young census-taker proceeded to explain why he was there. "Every ten years the government tries to find out how many people there are in the United States", he said. After staring at the ground for a moment, trying to take in what had been said, the old lady said to the young census-taker: "Lordy, honey, I shore do wish I could hep ye, but I don't have no idee how many they is".

Life does not always expect of us what we think it expects. The people who are dependent on us do not always expect of us as much as we assume they expect. The problem of feeling overwhelmed lies more often in our own perspective.

We do not know how to work the new math our children bring home from school and often we cannot offer specific answers to their deep and searching questions about life. Sometimes we feel guilty, or at least inadequate, when we do not know or cannot do what is asked of us. Our role is not to do everything, but to do everything we can. Like the lady in the hills of Tennessee, we cannot count all the people in the United States, but we can account for ourselves.

The people who lived best before us were not people who knew all of the answers; they were people who could survive creatively with unanswered questions. Carl Jung once wrote: "The greatest and most important problems of life are all fundamentally insoluble. They can never be solved but only outgrown". The most important tool we have for negotiating the things in life that are too large to understand is faith. Faith is not so much a solution as it is a coping mechanism. It is a device for withstanding more than for understanding.

The encouraging word for today is that you do not have to know or to do everything in order to be an adequate human being.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strangers to Ourselves, by Dr. Jim Savage

One of the most important aspects of growing up is learning to take charge of and responsibility for one's own life. The complete dependence with which we begin life as infants must slowly and surely be replaced by independence. While no one ever gains complete independence - by our very nature we are not complete within ourselves - a healthy independence is essential to maturity.

Sometimes people are threatened by the healthy growing independence of people they may wish to keep dependent, and thus under their control. It is not unusual to see a subtle (and sometimes not too subtle) battle develop along these lines between parent and child or husband and wife. But taking control of one's own life is a natural process. Some of the most profound parenting mistakes I have seen have to do with parents not knowing when to keep control of a child and when to turn loose. There is no set formula you may follow. Only parents who are sensitively and lovingly involved in the maturation of their children will know when.

I have seen many marriages 'go south' and end up in divorce because of the strange and unrealistic behavior of a controlling mate. The quest for power in a marriage is a very bad sign. It is almost axiomatic that the person with the most power loves least. Any time someone exercises control over another person by manipulation, fear, or any other means, they should not be surprised when the oppressed person someday makes a declaration of independence and leaves.

In his book, "The Mask Behind the Mask", Peter Evans, biographer of Peter Sellers, says that Sellers played so many roles that he sometimes was not sure of his own identity. Approached by a fan who asked him, "Are you Peter Sellers?", Evans said Sellers answered briskly, "Not today", and walked on.

There are some people who act as if they were visitors or strangers in their own lives. Instead of attempting to map out the direction of their lives, they seem to be along just for the ride.

Take charge of your life, for you are really not able to give your life to anyone or anything until you first possess it. Teach your children (slowly) how to achieve meaningful independence. It will be a gift of great value to them as long as they live. It will mean far more than any material bequest you may leave them in your will. We will not be with our children forever. We begin to influence them before we realize it, and we finish before we want to. While we all hope to be missed when we are gone, we do not wish our final absence to leave those we love paralyzed.

We will always be dependent to some degree and in some matters, but we achieve our highest potential as we learn to take charge of our own lives. And it goes without saying that we are responsible for all of that of which we take charge.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What Would You Have Me Do Now, by Dr. Jim Savage

One of my dear friends and valued colleagues was the late Dr. Rodney Wilmoth. I can still see the twinkle in his eye as he told the story about a man-servant of a Duke and Duchess in Europe many years ago. The following conversation took place between the man-servant and the Duchess.

"James, how long have you been with us?"

"About 30 years", he replied.

"According to my records", said the Duchess, "you were employed to look after the dog".

"Yes, ma'am", James replied.

"James, that dog died 27 years ago!"

"Yes, ma'am", he said. "What would you like to have me do now?"

I spent 48 years in a profession in which one of the prominent expectations was to help everybody find something to do. While I am not sure that this expectation is completely legitimate, the fact that clergy spend so much time and effort at this has legitimized the expectation to the extent that most people think it comes straight out of the Bible. There are times in which the process becomes a kind of game of 'hide and seek'. There is a category of people in every church and community who, when they are asked to do something, will decline, but who leave you with the impression that if you were a proper leader, you would be able to 'guess' what they would like to do. This is great sport with some people, but it will frustrate any who have accepted this 'hide and seek' process as a legitimate expectation of leadership.

One of the most thrilling experiences of a church or community leader is to have people ask for what they want. There is, however, a sense in which there is something everyone can do without having to ask or be asked. Any person who genuinely wants to do something positive for the church, the community, the country, or for some individual person, can easily find many things begging to be done. They are usually things that are so simple anyone can do them, and so important that if they are left undone we will all be the poorer.

Smile at some lonely stranger. Speak to someone you do not know. Pick up a piece of trash. Find a person dining alone in a restaurant and when you leave pay for their meal and leave before they know who you are. Use your imagination and the list becomes endless. Then you will never have to ask the Duchess, the pastor, or anyone what to do next. The world is a better place when we practice random acts of kindness and senseless acts of beauty.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Weeping With One Eye, by Dr. Jim Savage

Sometimes we are smitten by a phrase that conjures up remarkable mental images. There are phrases that drip with emotion and meaning and which beg to be repeated, dissected and discussed. They come from strange places and strange people, and they stir up strange feelings. One such phrases for me was: "Weeping With One Eye".

The late Dr. Scott Peck of The Road Less Traveled fame (who said he did not remember where he heard it) tossed this phrase into a small circle of people, toyed with it philosophically for a few minutes and then left it with us.

It has been like a cocklebur in my mind since that time.

My first impression was: "What a way to describe somebody who just half cares - somebody who is good enough not to ignore the pain of others, but not good enough or not strong enough to enter fully into that pain". There is no way to take away the suffering of others without entering into it. People who really care not only cry, they also get their hands dirty and they spend money.

Deep in the Old Testament there is a piece of writing called Lamentations. It is traditionally thought to have been written by Jeremiah, the weeping prophet. It is a funeral song written about the destruction of Jerusalem. In 587 BC, the Babylonian army destroyed the city of Jerusalem. They deported all the able-bodied people to Babylonia where they remained in exile for almost fifty years. Surveying the obvious tragedy of the situation, Jeremiah cries out: "Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by?" (Lam. 1:12) There are times in which the sorrow and tragedy in us or around us is so obvious that we become distressed when others do not see and feel it as we do. I do not know what touches you to turn your tears to anger. It may be senseless ethnic cleansing, the wars of religious hatred, starvation in a world of plenty, destructive ignorance, or the homeless people who sleep in the doorways of churches and businesses. There does come a time to act in the tradition of Jeremiah - to quit crying long enough to grab the world by the coattails and scream in the ears of the indifferent masses: "Is this nothing to you, all you who pass by?" If you care you cannot remain dry-eyed and silent.

In the slums of Calcutta, India, thousands live on the streets. If they own a ragged blanket to spread over the place where they sleep, they feel lucky. Early each morning trucks come by to pick up the bodies of those who die in the night. Babies are born on the sidewalk and left in cardboard boxes. In the midst of this abject poverty and unspeakable suffering a tiny little woman who, until her recent death, could be seen moving among the sick, homeless and hungry, giving help wherever and however she could. She was an Albanian nun lovingly called Mother Teresa. She walked among these homeless, hurting people. She bent low to touch them, whispering a word of comfort and encouragement to them. She lifted the dying in her arms to hold them as they died. She was not afraid of them. She wept and worked and walked and begged for them. She is a proper model for what to do when weeping, even with both eyes, is not enough. There is so much in this world to cry and care about!

It has been said and it is true: "People do not care how much we know until they know how much we care".

Friday, July 3, 2009

An Encouraging Word Makes a Difference, by Dr. Jim Savage

It is difficult to estimate the extent to which a word of interest or encouragement can brighten and empower the lives of people we encounter every day. It costs so little and means so much that it would be a shame to withhold the words we can give to those whose lives these words would strengthen.

One day Verdi, the great musician and composer, came upon an organ grinder who was messy, dirty, and greasy. Even his monkey was dirty. Worst of all, he was playing the tune on his instrument too slowly. Verdi tapped the man on the shoulder as he walked past him and said, "Pick it up; pick it up". Three weeks later Verdi came upon this very same fellow again, and to his surprise the man was clean, neat and well-dressed. Even his monkey was neat and clean now. But, best of all, he was playing the tune in perfect time. Verdi walked past the man and turned to congratulate him on his tremendous improvement of appearance and style and, to his utter surprise, saw a band on the organ-grinder's hat which read: "Master Musician, Student of Verdi".

A word of encouragement or guidance from someone whose judgment we value can revolutionize our lives. When we feel that nobody cares how we look or work, then we begin to lose our sense of pride. Sometime just a word, spoken in the right tone, can restore our pride and bring out the best in us.

There are few, if any, of us who have not been discouraged and depressed over circumstances over which we had little or no control. We have watched late into the night with some loved one who was dying and we have felt the frustration of helplessness. We have watched the questioning face of a child in pain when we could find no words to comfort or explain. We have watched the savings of a lifetime disappear. We have felt the sense of shame and embarrassment over losing our job. We have experienced the pain of divorce as we lost the love of someone to whom our lives had been knitted by children and years. We have watched our children, around whose lives we have built our lives, leave us. We have been rejected by persons we loved, but who did not love us back. We have been excluded from groups to which we wanted to belong, and shunned by people whose companionship we craved. We have hurt late into the night for no specific reason, that we could identify, but simply because somewhere along the way our reason for living fell through a crack in the bottom of life. Have I left you out of this list? If so, call me.

People who are hurting need more than idle encouragement of the unaffected.

It costs the giver so little and means so much to the receiver that we should be generous with our words of interest and encouragement. Look around you today for some person who seems to be down. Give them an encouraging word. It will enrich both of you.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Divorce Prevention Tips


Economic uncertainty, unemployment and fear about possible job-loss can, and often does, cause stress on marriages. If a marriage is already experiencing problems, the stress of a poor economy can push a marriage into deeper trouble. It can cause new and unexpected problems to surface. Under such circumstance there is danger that troubled married couples will jump to the conclusion that divorce is the best solution to complex problems. The idea that divorce will solve financial and relationship problems is an illusion. The result is usually more problems and more hurt to more people than you can imagine. With this in mind, consider these suggestions on divorce prevention.

(1) One of the primary causes of divorce is loss of communication or miscommunication between a couple. Silence in marriage is a deadly sound. Talk about your problems openly and honestly with your spouse. Hear each other out. This will at least save you from misunderstandings. No matter what the problem may be in your understanding of reality, tell your spouse what you think and how you feel. This should be done in a civil manner, without exaggerations and crude language.

(2) Do not have "heated" discussions in the presence of small children. One of the earliest fears of a child is the loss of one or both parents. Do not use your children as a weapon in a verbal battle or marital war. You will live to regret it. They will be damaged and your cause will not be helped.

(3) If you have money problems, sit down TOGETHER and draw up a budget based on your total income and your necessary expenditures. Find adjustments upon which you both agree. Do not make large and/or undiscussed purchases. Beware of credit cards. Pay off your credit card debt FIRST. The compounding interest will eat you up. You would be wise to stop using credit cards altogether if you cannot pay them off each month.

(4) Do not use alcohol or other drugs to deaden the pain of your problems. It will not work. Use only prescription drugs and follow your doctor's orders strictly in using any drug.

(5) If you (and/or your spouse) are drinking too much, do not ignore the problem. Bring it out in the open, discuss it and make mutual resolutions to address the issue.

(6) Jealously and possessiveness are dangerous ways of relating. When parading behind religious language, and offered in the name of love, they become insidious tools of manipulation that can finally destroy a marriage relationship. If you have suspicions about the behavior of you husband or wife, i.e. if you think they are cheating on you, address the problem openly, directly and quickly. You could be mistaken, but if you are not, the matter should not be allowed to continue.

(7) If you are having marriage problems you cannot resolve between the two of you, get help from an objective outside person who by reason of training and experience in the field of marriage and family counseling can help you or refer you for professional help. This may be your Pastor. At least this is a good place to start. Do not discuss your marriage problems with relatives and casual friends. (The exception to that is if you need quick help and protection in the case of abuse). Their advice is not likely to be helpful. It could be hurtful.

(8) Go to Church. If you do not have a church, find one. It is always wise to have and loving and supportive community in the event of serious trouble. There are many fine churches and pastors in this county.

(9) Remember what you agreed to in your marriage vows, especially that part about: "for better or worse; richer or poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part." That was a contract you signed on to in the presence of God and other witnesses. Breaking it will be costly in many ways.

(10) Remember the lasting damage that a divorce can do to your children. It lasts a life-time. If you do not understand the full implications of that damage, visit me or your pastor and we will explain it to you in Monroe County English. You really do not want to inflict a life-time wound on your children!!!

(11) Spouse and child abuse is absolutely unacceptable!! Do not do it. Do not tolerate it. Physical abuse has legal consequences. Verbal and emotional abuse has serious moral consequences, and is often the prelude to physical abuse if it is tolerated.

(12) If you have marriage problems you cannot resolve, ask your doctor, minister or some other trusted person to help you, or to send you to someone else who can help.

(13) Divorce is far more expensive than you ever thought possible. It will cost you in more ways than you can imagine, and leave you with regrets that will last a life-time.

(14) If you are tempted to file for a divorce, ask your lawyer to show you the laundry list of bad things that will said about your spouse in a divorce complaint. And, remember that an equally ugly set of very bad things will be said about you in response.

(15) When you discuss problems with your spouse, fight fair. Do not use abusive accusations and language that you know to be untrue and which you may want to take back later in some possible reconciliation. Words CAN and DO wound. Sometimes these wounds never heal.

(16) There is more!! But, make your own list and reread this list when it is appropriate to do so.

Another Aspect of Freedom, by Dr. Jim Savage

Last week I told the story of one brave man, Alex Campbell, who died for freedom during World War II. Alex Campbell is 'legion'. Because there are so many who have done so much, we tend to lose the power of the specifics in the overwhelming numbers. Because we have inherited a unique freedom, it is incumbent on each of us to live and act like free people.

We have in this country, even with all its failings, a species of freedom that is unique in the world. And when 50 per cent of the eligible voters stay away from the polls, it is obvious we do not appreciate what we have.

There is something we need to understand about this matter of freedom. Political freedom does not assure personal freedom. While personal freedom may be easier to achieve in a politically free society, it does not confer personal freedom. Personal freedom is a personal achievement.

There are many who live in our free society who are not free. They live in oppressive and/or abusive relationships - either by choice or by some species of force that constitutes the worst kind of tyranny.

There are many slaves in our free society. They have chosen or fallen into an addiction. They are slaves to drugs or alcohol or tobacco. There are many people walking around in what we think is a free world, but they wear chains that are very real. If you look closely, you can see it in their eyes, hear it in the timbre of their voices, and see it in their broken lives and relationships.

We all know people in our free society who are in a constant state of war against unseen enemies within which hold them prisoner. They flail out at spouses, brothers and sisters, parents, colleagues at work, and even strangers on the street in a desperate effort to free themselves, but they never win because they are not fighting the right enemy. They battle imagined external enemies when the real enemy is within. Until they look within and ask God to join them in the battle, there is no victory, no truce, no freedom and no peace.

Can you hear what I am saying? Just how free are you in our free society?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Signs and Wonders


"God delivers and rescues, He works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth." (Dan 6:27)

"Now to Him who by the Power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to Him be Glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen." (Eph 3:20-21)

Prayer is not an indifferent or a small thing. It is not a sweet little privilege. It is a great prerogative, far-reaching in its effects. Failure to pray entails losses far beyond the person who neglects it. Prayer is not a mere episode of the Christian Life. Rather the Whole Life is a Preparation for and the Result of Prayer. In its condition, Prayer is the sum of religion.

Faith is but a channel of Prayer. Faith gives it wings and swiftness. Prayer is the lungs through which Holiness breathes.

Prayer is not only the Language of Spiritual Life, but makes its very Essence and Forms its Real Character. (Edward M. Bounds, "The Possibilities of Prayer")

Paul wrote Ephesians while in prison at Rome. He wants to strengthen them in the Faith of Christ and to give exalted views of the Love of God, and of the dignity and excellence of Christ, fortifying their minds against the scandal of the Cross. He tells them they were Saved by Grace and they now have equal privileges with the Jews. He encourages them to Persevere in their Christian Calling, urging them to Walk in a manner becoming their profession....They have Special Duties.......

The apostle asks for Spiritual Blessings, which are the best Blessings. Strength from the Spirit of God in the inner person; strength for the soul; the strength of Faith to serve God and to do our duty. If the Law of Christ is written in our hearts, and the Love of Christ is shed abroad there, then Christ dwells there. Where His Spirit Dwells, there He Dwells.

How Powerfully the apostle speaks of the Love of Christ!

The breadth shows its extent to All nations and ranks; the length, that it continues from everlasting to everlasting; the depth, its saving those who are sunk into the depths of sin and misery; the height, its raising them up to heavenly happiness and glory.

Those who receive Grace for Grace from Christ' fullness, may be said to be Filled with the Fullness of God.

It is proper always to end prayers with praises. Let us expect more, encouraged by what Christ has already done for our souls, being assured that the Conversion of sinners and the comfort of Believers, will be to His Glory, for ever and ever. (Eph 3:13-21, Matthew Henry)

Dear God, how can we understand that which is beyond imagination? How can we Know that which surpasses Knowledge? Thank You for sending Your Son, Jesus, to show us the Way of Love. Christ Jesus, how can we even ask for Your Love after the way we have turned from You? Yet, You have Loved us in Ways we cannot imagine.....We are contained in the boundaries of Love...We will never find the outermost limits of Your Love for us. Your Love is immeasurable, inexhaustible, inescapable, irrepressible, insatiable, irrational.....O Lord, help us in our deepest desire to Know Your Love through personal Experience. Thank You, for Such Love! Come, Holy Spirit this day and fill us with Your unlimited Resources until we are fully Focused on Love. Thank You, Holy Spirit. Amen. Amen.

"Higher than the highest heavens, Deeper than the deepest sea, Wider than I can ever imagine, Is Your great Love for me, Your great Love for me." (1997, Morris Chapman)

Freedom Is Never Cheap, by Dr. Jim Savage

Soon we will celebrate Independence Day. How can we remind this generation that many people died to give us a unique freedom about which so many seem so casual? There are countless examples of courage that have preserved our freedom. Let me tell you one of them.

In his book, And No Bird Sang, Farley Mowatt tells a touching story that comes from the Canadian Armed Forces' involvement in the assault on Sicily and Rome during World War II.

Mowatt was a very young, eager, sensitive and idealistic junior officer. He had a colleague by the name of Alex Campbell who was just the opposite. Alex was wounded early in the war, but returned from a North African hospital for a final battle near the end of Mowatt's account. While in the hospital he had tried his hand at poetry, which he timidly shared with Mowatt when he returned. When Mowatt read the poetry and saw that this scathless pillar of a man had been afraid too, he was shocked. The poem was a prayer that he would be able to manage his fear in such a way that the men he led would say of him afterward: "He was a man".

On Christmas Day a bone-weary sergeant returned from a terrible battle in which Campbell's company had been cut to pieces. That is how Mowatt found out how Alex Campbell died. Seventh Platoon had been pinned down by murderous machine gun fire. The logical move for Campbell would have been to use one of the other platoons to outflank the guns, but instead he did the unexpected - and inexplicable. Seizing a tommy gun, he drew his great bulk to its full height, gave an inarticulate bellow, and charged straight at the enemy.

After no more than three or four paces he was riddled with bullets. He crashed into the mud like a falling colossus. During that timeless interval, both his own men and the Germans were so stunned by his action that not a further shot was fired by either side. The sergeant gave his graphic impression of the event as he ground out his cigarette and looked at Mowatt with puzzled eyes: "It was the bravest... thing I ever saw...and the craziest. Crazy, but Jesus, what a man".

Standing there among the dead and the wounded, Mowatt, for the first time, began to weep. Thirty-five years later Mowatt was still asking if his tears were for Alex Campbell, the wounded or all the others who were gone and who were yet to go? "Or was I weeping for myself...and those who would remain?"

No person ever remains the same when they realize that they live in a world in which someone died for them. We are all here, as we are today, because many have died for us. The proper response is to weep and be humbly grateful that such courage did exist - and still does, in the most unexpected places.

Freedom is never cheap. Somebody pays for it. Do not forget those who paid the ultimate price so that you and I can enjoy a unique freedom.