Saturday, August 20, 2016

A merry heart is good medicine

I wrote the following article for the congregation of a church I served a while back.  
A little judicious editing makes it a message pertinent to many (including you) at this time of year.

A merry heart is good medicine,
but a downcast spirit dries up the bones!

I have this cartoon on my board at home.  You may remember it: Tom Wilson’s Ziggy is sitting on his stool contemplating:
“I wish I knew the secret of happiness . . .
I’d tell everyone I know!!!”

There are several implications here:
One is that Ziggy can’t keep secrets very well – especially of this magnitude.
Another is that Ziggy does not know the secret of happiness – and no one he knows knows either.
And another is that the secret of happiness is something being sought. 
And, of course, if he tells everyone, it’s no secret any more.  Poor Ziggy.

A downcast spirit dries up the bones.

You know people like this, don’t you? 
Always whining. 
Always griping about something. 
Always ready with a “Yes, but . . .” 
Always looking for the down-side, they always find it. 
For such people, life is not pleasant.

Not knowing the secret to happiness, not only is their demeanor affected, but their physical health and appearance is affected, as well. 
We used to say such people had been sucking persimmons. 
Most often, they know not what they are missing by not knowing happiness.

But, a merry heart is good medicine!

The Royal Philosopher in the book of Proverbs, knew what he was talking about. 
The body of evidence continues to mount proving that positive attitudes like love and laughter are better predictors of good health than any other indicator!
Ben Franklin should have said:
A laugh a day, keeps the doctor away!

Of course, you know the truth of this, don’t you? 
Christ Presbyterian Church is a place where you can recover your smile, exercise your soul, and put meat on your bones. 
If you don’t smile for while during and after our Sunday worship, I feel that I have done something wrong. 
Not only does our laughter produce endorphin building up our immune system, but it also helps us be at one with the universe. 
By laughing, we communicate with the very heart of God.

Perhaps you saw the Inquirer article about area clergy working to help people have merry hearts.  The headline read: Gospel With a Giggle. “A little laughter lifts the spirit – and helps shepherd home the good word.”

A new season begins soon at a church near you. 
Remarkably, by remembering our Creator,
coming with thankful hearts,
knowing our place in the scheme of things,
hearing God’s Word read and explored,
focusing on the needs of others and the glories of the universe,
our worship is a time of refreshment,
a time of refueling,
a time of recreation,
a time of replenishment.

The secret to happiness is found here. 
Let the Ziggys of this world know. 
Let the prune-faces of this world know. 
Let all with downcast spirits know. 
Here is one place they can come to learn about the secret to happiness.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Summertime as Sabbath Time

Do you remember the song?
Summertime... and the livin’ is easy...

Sometimes I think if we didn’t have summertime, we would have to invent it!

It seems to be basic to our human nature to need a time of relative quietude –
a time of slowing down a bit more than usual –
a time of reflection –
a time of contemplation –
a time of getting back in touch with the things that really matter –
a time of prayer – 
a time of seeking joy –
a time of pausing —
a time of refreshment —
a time of re-creation.

The Bible seems to ordain that we need a time set aside for these things. 
The fourth commandment speaks to the need for religiously observing a periodic day of rest. Other passages speak of the need for sabbaticals and times of jubilee.

For many of us, Summertime has become Sabbath-time:
a time for respite, a time for rest,
a time for relaxation, a time for restoration,
a time for rejuvenation, a time for refreshment,
a time for recess, a time for recovery,
a time for renewal, a time for revival,
a time for restoration, a time for rebirth,
a time for recovery, a time for reawakening,
a time for recuperation, a time for resurrection.

Yes, summertime can be all of these things.
Time seems to slow down in the summer.
(Perhaps, it’s the heat and humidity, but I think it’s more than that.)

Nature has a way of forcing sabbaticals on us.
As if God is reminding us that all moments are precious:
the roses need to be smelled,
the breeze needs to be felt,
the rain needs to be celebrated, the fruits need to be savored,
the relationships need to be cultivated,
the children need to be befriended,
and laughter needs to resound all around.

Of course, you don’t need me to tell you what you need.

I pray that this time will be of great benefit to you:

Do something you would just not think of doing at some other time.
Take time to smell the roses.
Write a note.
Make a call.
Get in touch with the Creator of time itself.
Do something special for someone.

Remember your church —
and your brothers and sisters in the faith here.
Sabbath times are holy times.
And, summer times are holy times   —  
if  we remember to put first things first.

Putting first things first means to affirm the words of the Psalmist:
   This is the day the Lord has made... rejoice and be glad!

My prayer is that you will find holy times this summer as you take advantage of the days given to you.

Remember to take it easy.
Remember to just slow down.
Remember to keep a Sabbath.
Remember who has given you this day.
Remember who has placed you where you are.
Remember who has given you the people you are with.
Remember whose you are.
Remember who you are.

Use your time this summer to rejuvenate.
And let us, together, gather with new resolve to help God use this church to further the Kingdom of God on earth.

Pray for one another and rejoice in the moments you have.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

11 Years Cancer Free!

So, I doubt if anyone noticed; but, I skipped  out on meeting with my brothers and sisters of the Presbytery of Philadelphia so that I might keep a long-standing appointment with my Urologist. 

His news was good news.  "11 years cancer free", he said.
No signs of cancer.
"There is nothing for us to talk about," he said.
"See you next year."
"YES!", I said.

11 years ago I wrote these words for our church folks -- and it has since been passed on and on -- I don't know where. 

You might like to read it. Please let me know if you pass it on.

"Cancer," he said.
"You have cancer."
Sobering words, for sure.

I knew he was talking about the cancer that kills more men each year, save one.

I knew that over 30,000 men will die from prostate cancer this year.

I also knew that an estimated two million American men are currently living with prostate cancer.

So, the doctor had my full attention.

Thus began three weeks of whirlwind research and consultations and tests.

Fortunately, all doctors concurred that for my age, and my particular circumstance, the cancer needed to be treated aggressively.

Our research revealed that some surgeons were reporting great outcomes using laproscopic techniques. However, only a few surgeons in the Philadelphia were trained in these procedures and few were actually doing the surgery on a regular basis.

As luck would have it, the most experienced surgeon in laproscopic prostatectomies worked out of Bryn Mawr -- alongside the urologist I have seeing for some 20 years!

Not only had he done more laproscpic surgeries than any other area urologist, but he had documented phenomenal success with positive outcomes. And, he is the first -- and currently, only -- one to use the very latest tool: a robot called DaVinci. And, Lankenau Hospital is the only hospital in the Philadelphia area to have this futuristic machine in use.

I knew from my research that confidence in the medical team was one of the most predictors of positive outcomes. I had that.

I also knew that an even greater predictor of positive outcomes was my involvement with the faith group that is Christ Presbyterian Church.

In recent years I have been collecting scientific studies that confirm what I have observed -- and long suspected -- members of faith groups heal quicker, have less pain, and experience better surgical outcomes than those that aren't.
In fact, research confirms that being a member of a church is a better predictor of positive surgical outcomes than the disease itself, the location of the disease, or, even family history.

The prayers and expressions of concern by so many in the church, in other churches throughout the Presbytery, and in other contexts as well, worked with the skill and dedication of the surgeon and the medical team to help secure the most positive of all outcomes.

Not only has my recovery gone very well -- my hospitalization was only about 24 hours and I have had very little pain or other side effects -- but, tests show that the cancer seems to have confined to the prostate and they got it all!

By all accounts, I am now cancer free!

Sadly, over 30,000 men will die from prostate cancer this year.

This is the cancer that kills more men each year, save one.

It is estimated that some two million American men are currently living with prostate cancer.

And this is a cancer that can be beat with early detection and treatment.

It would behoove all men to get checked today.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Christmas Oratorio: W.H. Auden

Christmas Oratorio
W.H. Auden

Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes --
Some have got broken -- and carrying them up to the attic.

The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school.  There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week --
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted -- quite unsuccessfully --
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.  Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable

Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.

The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  But, for the time being, here we all are,
Back in the moderate Aristotelian city
Of darning and the Eight-Fifteen, where Euclid's geometry
And Newton's mechanics would account for our experience,
And the kitchen table exists because I scrub it.

It seems to have shrunk during the holidays.  The streets
Are much narrower than we remembered; we had forgotten
The office was as depressing as this.  To those who have seen
The Child, however dimly, however incredulously,
The Time Being is, in a sense, the most trying time of all.
For the innocent children who whispered so excitedly
Outside the locked door where they knew the presents to be
Grew up when it opened.  Now, recollecting that moment
We can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious;
Remembering the stable where for once in our lives
Everything became a You and nothing was an It.

And craving the sensation but ignoring the cause,
We look round for something, no matter what, to inhibit
Our self-reflection, and the obvious thing for that purpose

Would be some great suffering.  So, once we have met the Son,
We are tempted ever after to pray to the Father;
"Lead us into temptation and evil for our sake."

They will come, all right, don't worry; probably in a form
That we do not expect, and certainly with a force
More dreadful than we can imagine.  In the meantime
There are bills to be paid, machines to keep in repair,
Irregular verbs to learn, the Time Being to redeem
From insignificance.  The happy morning is over,
The night of agony still to come; the time is noon:
When the Spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing
Without even a hostile audience, and the Soul endure
A silence that is neither for nor against her faith
That God's Will will be done, That, in spite of her prayers,
God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph.

He is the Way.
Follow Him through the Land of Unlikeness;
You will see rare beasts, and have unique adventures.

He is the Truth.
Seek Him in the Kingdom of Anxiety;
You will come to a great city that has expected your return for years.

He is the Life.
Love Him in the World of the Flesh;
And at your marriage all its occasions shall dance for joy.

-- W. H. Auden

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Why is this night, of all nights, important to us?

It’s a good thing we begin a new year every year about this time, don’t you think?

If properly approached, the beginning of a new year can be beneficial to our psyche,
beneficial to our health, and beneficial to our soul.

However, as the years go by, Father Time becomes more of a caricature, and we pay less and less attention to the intention  of the season, don’t we?

Without the fol-de-rol of late night parties, New year’s Eve is of little importance to the on-going nature of our lives. 
We have no ceremony for this time of year, when a youngster may ask, “Why is this night, of all nights, important to us?” 

But, maybe we should. 
For this could be a teaching moment for all of us.

As I have noted before, most of us carry around way too much baggage.  We tend to tote pounds and pounds of grudges, animosity, resentment, and revenge, don’t we?
And, we know it’s unhealthy. 
Doctors tell us. 
Ministers tell us. 
Researchers tell us. 
Some friends tell us. 
Our blood pressure is affected. 
Our cholesterol is affected. 

Our heart rate is affected. 
Our mood is affected. 
Our relationships are affected. 
Our outlook is affected. 
Our immune system is affected. 
We become more prone to disease. 
We become more prone to mental disorder. 
We become more prone to grumpiness. 
And, our life is not what it could be. 
Our life is not what it should be. 
Our life is not what it is promised to be.

Dr. Bernie Siegel reminds us that there seems to be an innate desire in all humans to be reborn, to start again,
to make resolutions and changes we can live up to.

He notes that he sees evidence of this deep seeded desire
“every day in my role as a physician:
People learn they have a limited time to live, and they start their New Year behavior.
They move, change jobs, spend more time with those they love, stop worrying about what everyone else thinks of them, and start to celebrate their life. They are grateful for the time they have to enjoy life and they stop whining about what they wish had happened during the past year.”

So, he notes: we don’t need to wait for that one certain day of the year.

Dr. Siegel suggests that everyday can be the beginning of a new year.
When every evening is New Year’s Eve and every day you awaken is New Year’s Day, you are living life as it was intended.

For me, this is the message of the new year. 

As Paul reminds us in Colossians, it is time to put to death old attitudes and agendas.

Then, the new year has meaning.  

Then, the new life we are promised is closer to being fulfilled.

In this way, we nurture our soul. 
And, when our soul is tended, our health is better and our future is brighter.  
Then, and only then, can we truly welcome the new year and the days ahead. 
We know them to be the fulfillment of God’s time.

This is the day the Lord has made. 

When every evening is New Year’s Eve and every day you awaken is New Year’s Day, you are living life as it was intended.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Church Closes, A Ministry Ends

As the doors slowly close on the end of era of Christian witness and ministry at this corner of the world in Drexel Hill, Pennsylvania USA,
another era ends as well.

On a personal level I have always considered it to be a privilege to serve this congregation through the years.

I remember quite vividly the conversation I had that day in November of 1989.  

The Moderator of the Presbytery’s Committee on Ministry called to tell me of an “opportunity” she would like for me to consider.

For several years I had served churches in an “interim” basis when they were in between installed pastors.  (At one point, I could calculate that I had preached from 43 different pulpits.)

“Our Christ Church in Drexel Hill is in a stress situation,” she said.

“They figure they have finances for six months.”

“Would you consider a contact with them for only 6 months?”

As we say, the rest is now history. 
Neither I nor the church had any inkling that we would be in a relationship for 24 years!

24 years is a long time in the life a church – and in the life of a pastor.

In its 87 year history, Christ Church has had seven installed pastors:
The Reverend Doctor W.C. Davidson,
The Reverend Doctor Richard Graves,
The Reverend Doctor Ferdimore E. Vogan,
The Reverend Doctor George Munro,
The Reverend John Harvey,
The Reverend Kevin Yoho,
and me.
And, of them all, I have served this church the longest.

If anyone had attended all the services over those 24 years, they would have heard over 1150 sermons!  Fortunately, no one has done so.

Over 1150 times the words “You are forgiven!” have rung from the rafters - (one of the most awesome opportunities I have had).

Over 15,000 prayers have been prayed.

And the Lord’s Supper was observed 144 times - to countless numbers of people in church and by their sides in homes or hospitals.

Some 55 people chose to become a member of our church.

Of course, there were over 120 funerals, as well.

And, probably, just as many weddings.

And infant baptisms - (just 5 or 6 years ago we had over 8 children here under the age of 4!)
At coffee hour one Sunday, one young father looked around at all the babies and declared, “Look here, we’re starting our own congregation!”

There are a lot of memories over 24 years.
Memories which affected me greatly and will continue to have impact the rest of my life.

Indeed, I consider myself most fortunate to have spent the past 24 years in ministry with this congregation;
and never more so than when Suzanne became so ill and required so much of my time seeing to her needs.

So, the church doors close after 87 years of ministry and witness to Christ here in Drexel Hill, 

and so shall my active ministry come to an end after 43 years of trying to be faithful to Christ’s calling in many many different venues over the years. 

Just as many of you in Christ Church are wondering “What’s next for me?”,  I have no idea what’s next for me.

I certainly don’t feel that I am ready for the pasture just yet.

And, I’ll bet it won’t be too long before I hear those words again, “Clyde, I have an opportunity I would like for you to consider.”


Monday, August 12, 2013

It All Depends on the Target

So, it occurs to me that most Americans think the Stop, Question, and Frisk laws are OK as long as they are targeting Black and Hispanic people (ostensibly to find guns to confiscate); but, if they should start targeting white folks (to find guns to confiscate), the outcry would be overwhelming . . .

Friends, our country is still divided by race, make no mistake about it.