Thursday, July 28, 2011

Sour Grape Faith

Not too long ago our priest used the fable of the Sour Grapes as an illustration of how we tend to minimize those elements of faith that we can't accomplish or find too hard. The story struck home with me in my own life. Upon reflection I could look back over my own life and see churches and individuals trim and cut portions of the faith they found too difficult under the pretense of "getting to the basics" or "finding the core of Christianity."

The story is familiar to most all people, and the phrase "sour grapes" can be found in most languages. One day a fox full of hunger and weariness staggered along a road looking for something to fill his belly. After some time, he came upon a cluster of wild grapes hanging from a roadside tree. Encouraged by their appearance, he wandered off the road toward the tree. Unfortunately, the grapes did not hang low enough for him to reach without some effort. He stretched upward but could not reach the grapes. He jumped into the air, but was too short. In a last attempt, he took a running start and leaped toward the vines but was just shy of their juicy goodness.

Dejected by his efforts, he proclaimed, 'Oh, you aren't even ripe yet! I don't need any sour grapes.'

So often, I have become the fox in my own Christian journey. "I am too tired to prayer this morning, oh, it doesn't matter I can pray anywhere." "I can't fast today, I am busy and need more energy than normal, God surely understands."

Thinking through my own examples, sour grape faith infects us in several ways:

1. Doctrinal: This tenet of the faith is merely fringe and does not really matter in the grand scheme of our salvation or how we understand Christ.

2. Ascetical: This is the world of spiritual disciplines such as regimented fasting, prayer, vigils, almsgiving, etc.

3. Practical: This is daily living, and choices we make about where we go, how we speak, and what we allow into our minds.

Questions: Is this an accurate picture of the Christian struggle? What are specific areas that easily fall prey to sour grape faith?

Friday, July 15, 2011

Eulogy to an American Hero

On June 29, 2011, an American hero died, he was my grandfather.

David M. Redstone was born in Olean, NY in 1918 to a large family. When he was still a young boy his parents packed up their family of 11 children on a 30 day journey from NY to the Atlantic coast of Florida where they would create a new life together.

David spent his childhood playing in the citrus groves and sandy beaches. After high school, he left FL to head back to NY to live with an older brother. While there, he met the woman who would later become my grandmother. Soon they were a family of three with a young infant son, but the peace of a young family would be interrupted by war. Not long after the US entered WWII, David was drafted into the Army.

During his tour of duty in the European theater, he earned multiple purple hearts and a bronze star. David was a big man who stood 6'4", and one day he was called on to fill a role for a communication post. He was instructed to carry a radio to another battalion of troops. Perhaps his size made him an easy target, for as he carried out this mission a German sniper shot him in the head. David fell to the ground and was left for dead, but thankfully he was rescued by a fellow soldier. The damage was so bad that a metal plate was placed in his shattered skull to hold his head together. His body had changed forever, and he could no longer use his right side.

He was shipped back to a military hospital in the states where he was met by grandmother. For months, she lived with their young son in Atlanta while my grandfather learned to speak, read, and write again. He developed enough mobility in his hip that he was trained to walk with a brace. After his recovery period they left Atlanta and traveled back to his childhood home in Vero Beach, Fl where my mother was born. With the encouragement of an older sister, David began college on the GI bill, and later graduated from the University of Miami law school.

After law school, he was hired as an attorney by the state of FL and moved to Tallahassee where he grew a successful career and life. Throughout this life, he was a faithful member of St. Paul's Methodist Church and multiple civic organizations. Until his death no one understood the influence of his life. Our family never even knew the difference he made in the lives of so many people of all ages.

Each day of his life was a fight as he struggled out of bed to dress himself with one arm. The time it took to do anything was often double an able-bodied person. It was his faith that sustained him, and would not let him quit. On that day a bullet had shattered his head, he lay on a German battlefield and heard God speak to him that he would survive and God would be with him the remainder of his days.

Often I heard him say that he was not in charge of his life, but his life was in the hands of God above. His life was evidence of this truth. The doctor that stitched him back together gave my grandfather one of the bullets that had been lodged in his body. On the bullet was etched, "made to kill", fortunately Someone overrode the purposes of that bullet, and David Redstone lived.

He died just as he lived. He looked death straight in the face and refused to quit. It wasn't his life to give up--it belonged to someone else. His final days were a wrestling match with death. In November, he was hospitalized for a stomach condition. He declined to the point that he was released to a hospice center. Yet, he refused to quit.

He recovered, and hospice would not keep him, so he entered a nursing facility. He continued fighting, and over the next several months he became fully immobile and blind. It seemed obvious to everyone that the end was near but he would not give up. Hospice came in again and was shocked that he was still surviving. Then on Thursday, June 29th, the nurse came in and asked if he was doing ok. He shook his head yes and passed this life.

His life proves that habit eventually becomes character. Each day of my grandfather's life he fought and struggled. He refused to quit and give in. When the end came and his strength and clarity left, the core of who he was refused to quit.

At the family viewing of his body, I stood over the shattered icon of my grandfather and prayed for his rest. I also prayed for my own soul. Life Elisha's prayer for a double portion of his master Elijah's character, I prayed that some of my grandfather's character would inhabit my own life. I prayed that I would endure, never quit, and fight the good fight till the end. We pray often in Church that we will have a "Christian end to this life", and I believe my grandfather had such an end. I pray that I may do the same.
David Mark Redstone--may your memory be eternal!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Track 4 - Unexpected Victory

Track 4 of the Biblical Odes is in the tiny book of Habakkuk. I've heard all kinds of pronunciations for this name. Some put the accent on the last, and it sounds like "have-a-Cook", the Greeks transformed it to Avakoum, and my South Ga version sounds like "tobacco" with an "H".

I love these "minor" prophets. Maybe it's the impulse to support the underdog. Habakkuk only has 3 chapters but a big message and he's in a part of the Bible where our pages are still stuck together.

Here's some background on Habakkuk. He was from the tribe of Simeon living 600 years before Christ during the reign of the evil Judean king Manasseh. In this short book, he foretells the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians.

Habakkuk begins by complaining of his own personal trials, which are a legitimate concern because he was a righteous man living in the midst of pagan depravity. In the midst of his own personal pain, God reveals that the Chaldeans will be coming to overthrow Judea. He cries to God, "You created me to reprove me for instruction."

God's response to him is one he would never have expected, and a future he would never have considered. Yes the pagans were going to overthrow his nation, but out of those ashes would rise something never seen on earth. His reaction to this revelation is later picked up by St. Paul in the NT: "The righteous shall live by faith."

Faith in what? His answer to this question in Biblical Ode #4 found in chapter 3. This hymn is one of triumph and unexpected victory. Judea would descend into certain destruction and the "grave" of the Babylonian captivity, but would later arise renewed in faithfulness to God. This is but a picture of God Himself descending into the depths of hell to rescue the captives and arise in victory, and therefore becomes a prophesy of the unexpected victory of Christ dying on a ignoble Roman cross yet saving the world.

This is the content of Habakkuk's faith. It is faith in the triumph of the cross. This hymn presents a complete victory and in this hymn the image of Christ is clearer than the others we have read thus far. The Church has traditionally read this as a prophetic glimpse of Christ's descent into Hades where he destroyed death and released the captives.

Several phrases of this hymn stand out in the minds of the Fathers:

  • the "two living ones" where He is revealed is understand as the Two Thieves who flanked Christ on the cross. Some Fathers point to the Transfiguration and His place between Elijah and Moses. Others even see Him in the manger between the animals. He is the fulcrum point of history.
  • "Dark Shady Mountain" This is the Virgin Mary from where Christ was born mysteriously. Daniel also sees Christ coming from the "Uncut Mountain".
  • "When the time has come" this is the fullness of time that Paul mentions in Galatians.
  • "horn in his hands" The nail in His palms which becomes His weapons as He destroys death by death.

Not much shocks or surprises us in our jaded world. Rarely can you learn something about a person or politician and be surprised. Surprise endings in book and movies are hard to come by. The surprise of the life-giving Cross is so ingrained in the Western imagination, we don't notice how scandalous or foolish this would have seemed in the Ancient world. Just as the Babylonian captivity was an unexpected answer to the paganism of Judea, the idea that the death of a poor Jewish Rabbi could bring freedom beyond a political solution was also unthinkable.

Victory only comes through Cross, and to think we can live a Christian life where we don't personally experience crucifixion is false hope and an empty victory.

Theron Mathis


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