The Prayer in Chris Farley’s Pocket

Photo by Islander Images on Unsplash

As I stumble through this life,
help me to create more laughter than tears,
dispense more happiness than gloom,
spread more cheer than despair.
Never let me become so indifferent
that I will fail to see the wonder
in the eyes of a child
or the twinkle in the eyes of the aged.
Never let me forget that my total effort
is to cheer people, make them happy
and forget – at least momentarily –
all the unpleasantness in their lives.
And, in my final moment,
may I hear You whisper:
‘When you made My people smile,
you made Me smile.’

The Clown’s Prayer

The closing words offered in the 2015 documentary “I Am Chris Farley” are “The Clown’s Prayer,” words Mr. Farley carried in his wallet that he would recite before auditions and shows. They are read by Mr. Farley’s friend and fellow actor Pat Finn.

I cannot imagine a more fitting, more perfect ending.

There is a prayer for every vocation, words that might be spoken as one pursues any good endeavor, that God might bless those efforts toward eternally good ends. Even for the comedian. While there has been a great deal of material published in recent years on faith and work and many sermons and talks given besides, I suspect the need to pair these two in the Christian imagination will not soon fade, and that we will need further reminders that the work of God is undertaken by the whole people of God in the fields, offices, workshops and warehouses of our world.

Our Need or God’s Pleasure?

Columbus Avenue Baptist Church, Waco, Texas

J. Hudson Taylor, the Baptist missionary and founder of the China Inland Mission, wrote a small commentary on the Song of Solomon. He read this book as an allegory of Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, his bride.

In this commentary, Taylor observes that our relationship with God is often driven by our needs. Our seeking after God is done in hopes of what we might receive, rather than for God and the joy that comes through faithfully response. Taylor writes:

Are we not all too apt to seek Him rather because of our need than for His joy and pleasure? This should not be. We do not admire selfish children who only think of what they can get from their parents, and are unmindful of the pleasure that they may give or the service they may render. But are not we in danger of forgetting that pleasing God means giving Him pleasure? Some of us look back to the time when the words ‘To please God’ meant no more than not to sin against Him, not to grieve Him; but would the love of earthly parents be satisfied with the mere absence of disobedience? Or a bridegroom, if his bride only sought him for the supply of her own need?

Union and Communion, 14-15

By all means, do not sin. But go the next step. Serve, and share in the joy of relationship with God.

The Friends of Friendless Churches

Waddeson Hill, a Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel

Alan Jacobs shared about The Friends of Friendless Churches in his newsletters, and I love the concept. Who are The Friends?

The Friends of Friendless Churches was set up in 1957 to save disused but beautiful old places of worship of architectural and historical interest from demolition, decay and unsympathetic conversion. Working across England and Wales, we are an independent, non-denominational charity which cares for over 50 former places of worship and has helped hundreds more.

Believing that an ancient and beautiful church fulfils its primary function merely by existing, we preserve these buildings for the local community and visitors to enjoy. Without us, all of these buildings would no longer be here, or open to the public.

Maintaining and repairing churches is a considerable financial challenge. We rely on the generosity of our members and on the willingness of groups of local Friends to fundraise and to act as our eyes and ears.

The church is a people, not a building. But the buildings do tell a story, they have a formational aspect, they reflect commitments and values, and the grounds upon which they are built do, in a certain sense, become sacred spaces, saturated as they are with prayer and worship and the memories and experiences of human beings who gathered together in such spaces in hopes of encountering the divine, of meeting with God.

Gratitude in the Wilderness

Photo by Stephen Leonardi on Unsplash

For us in 2020 we are in a different sort of wilderness. Things are not the same as they have been in the world, in our families, in our neighborhoods or our churches—and there’s no telling what things will look like in the future. On top of the pandemic we’re dealing with political division, economic uncertainty, and the heightened awareness of racial injustice where many continue to lament, long for, hope, and work for change.

Many of us as individuals and communities have experienced other times of wilderness in our lives, as well.

The remembrance we practice in these times is not always cheery and optimistic. Gratitude in the wilderness is a hard fought practice. It recognizes and gives thanks for what God has done in the past, cries out in pain for the way things are now, and calls God to act in the present in accordance with how God has in the past.

So when life gets hard and times get dark and confusing, remember how God has been at work in your life, in your family’s life, and in the life of your community in the past. Continue to give thanks for it. Cling to it. Be a witness, pass it along, and hold each other up.

And do the difficult work to look for where God is at work in the present.

Emily Beth Hill, “A Table in the Wilderness

If you were to choose a biblical motif to attach to this year, I suppose you cannot do much better than wilderness.

Hill is right: the people of God have always been a community of memory and remembrance, witness and testimony. We look back. We look around. We look ahead. We learn how to do this in and through the biblical story.

The biblical story provides us with markers, clues, schema, ways of understanding and meaning making, ways to make sense of what is taking place in our present moment. The biblical story, as has been said, is not only something to look at but to look through. As God has been faithful in the past, God is now faithful in the present, and will be again in the future, for God is eternal, the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Without being glib or dismissive, without minimizing present sufferings, without diminishing the hurts and burdens we’ve endured this year, look for those things for which we can be thankful, both great and small, and name those things with gratitude, giving thanks to God.

Laity Lodge: The Reorienting Practice of Birding

Take four minutes and watch this.

Birding can be an expression of the spiritual exercise known as creation awareness, the intentional and thoughtful contemplation of occurrences in the natural world as evidences of the handiwork of God. That’s one approach. Another is to consider the natural world and ask God to provide wisdom through the encounter. The Bible is filled with example, such as what can be gleaned through contemplation of the ant.

Each time Laity Lodge releases a new short film I long to go and experience it for myself. The closest I came was earlier this year, but: COVID. I’ve never been. One day. One day.

An Expression of Christian Hope

Children when you come to my silent grave to see where your lifeless mother was laid,
remember how I loved you and how I worked and labored and patiently waited on you.
But remember this grave can’t always hold this lifeless body of your mother, but when Christ, who is my life shall appear, that this lifeless mother, the body of mine, shall appear with Him in glory.

Children, my labor of works and patience of love, I leave with you.
Be at peace among yourselves.
Behold the love of Jesus.

This is the grave marker of Dora L. Keith, born October 5, 1871, and died February 16, 1917. She is buried in the Round Grove Cemetery, Dublin, Texas.

Dora Keith was my great-great-grandmother. She died when my great-grandmother, Nellie Hazzard, the youngest of her eight children, was six years old.

Dora Keith knew she was dying. She wrote this letter while living, addressing her children. Her convictions fortified her in the face of death. Her hope was in Christ. Her final exhortation, “Behold the love of Jesus,” are words of deep wisdom. To know of and about Jesus is one thing, and a good thing, at that, but to behold him and his love has the power to transform us.

This memorial now stands as a testimony to me, her great-great-grandson over a century later. It also stands as a testimony to you. Above, we read an allusion to Colossians 3:4, which in the King James Version says, “When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory.” She clung to hope in the resurrection. I do, too.

Oswald Chambers on Partaking in Christ’s Sufferings

Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash

When it comes to suffering, it is part of our Christian culture to want to know God’s purpose beforehand. In the history of the Christian church, the tendency has been to avoid being identified with the sufferings of Jesus Christ. People have sought to carry out God’s orders through a shortcut of their own. God’s way is always the way of suffering— the way of the “long road home.”

Are we partakers of Christ’s sufferings? Are we prepared for God to stamp out our personal ambitions? Are we prepared for God to destroy our individual decisions by supernaturally transforming them? It will mean not knowing why God is taking us that way, because knowing would make us spiritually proud. We never realize at the time what God is putting us through— we go through it more or less without understanding. Then suddenly we come to a place of enlightenment, and realize— “God has strengthened me and I didn’t even know it!”

– Oswald Chambers, “November 5: Partakers of His Suffering,” My Utmost for His Highest (affiliate link)

Capon’s Three Point Argument for the Dinner Party

Photo by CHUTTERSNAP on Unsplash

I’m the kind of guy who usually prefers a quiet night with a fire in the hearth and my family under my roof, good music coming through the speakers and a good book nearby. But the following argument for the full dinner party (as opposed to a cocktail party) by Robert Farrar Capon, outlined in The Supper of the Lamb [affiliate link], is one I want to remember.

1. The Session: Creating a Company

The dinner party, Capon writes:

[I]s an honest attempt to create a company, not a crowd. Persons matter at the table. We sit in real and estimable places marked with the most precious and intimate device we have: our names. Harry sits next to Martha not because he wandered to her side out of whim or loneliness but because, in his host’s loving regard, he is Harry and she is Martha, and that is where they belong. Place cards may be pretentious (they are, in any case, a dispensable formality); but assignment to place by name is the host’s announcement that he cares. I always take it as a compliment when a good man tells me where he wants me to sit.

He has, you see, been willing to take me on as God takes me–as a risk. He pays me the supreme tribute of putting himself in my power. The giver of a cocktail party is a man who hedges his bets and cops out of the dangers of entertaining. He requires nothing of his guests but their physical presence. If they turn out to be untempered duds or ill-tempered boors, it is no skin off his nose: They can simply find their own corner of outer darkness and fall apart any way they like. But when he sits me down at his table, he declares himself willing to let me into his life. He puts me into my place; but he also puts me in a position to make or break his party as I will. It is no small boldness; if you have such friends, treasure them.

2. Better Food, Service, and a Place to Sit

Capon calls the dinner party “merciful where the cocktail party is not.” He writes:

It provides us with better food, more attractive service, and, beneath it all, a seat to sit on. But it provides more than that. Early in the book I defied place as a Session, a meeting, a confrontation–of real beings. The old descriptions of heaven as the celestial banquet, the supper of eternal life, the endless convivium, hit close to the truth. Nowhere more than in good and formal company do we catch the praegustatum, the foretaste of what is in store for us.

3. A Proclamation of the Abundance of Being

A great meal is a chance to celebrate the goodness and glory of creation. Capon says:

Last, the dinner party is a true proclamation of the abundance of being–a rebuke to the thrifty little idolatries by which we lose sight of the lavish hand that made us. It is precisely because no one needs soup, fish, meat, salad, cheese, and dessert at one meal that we so badly need to sit down to them from time to time. It was largesse that made us all; we were not created to fast forever. The unnecessary is the taproot of our being and the last key to the door of delight. Enter here, therefore, as a sovereign remedy for the narrowness of our minds and the stinginess of our souls, the formal dinner for six, eight, or ten chosen guests, the true convivium–the long Session that brings us nearly home.

“In All Directions, There Was Only Silence and Emptiness”

Photo by David Morris on Unsplash

I recently finished Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove [affiliate link], a novel I heartily recommend. I didn’t want it to end. Augustus McCrae, a philosopher, warrior, Texas Ranger and restless romantic, is now one of my favorite characters in literature. Here is a passage I enjoyed, an invitation to silence:

That night Augustus stopped to rest his horse, making a cold camp on a little bluff and eating some jerky he had brought along. He was in the scrubby post-oak country near the Brazos and from his bluff he could see far across the moonlit valleys.

It struck him that he had forgotten emptiness such as existed in the country that stretched around him. After all, for years he had lived within the sound of the piano from the Dry Bean, the sound of the church bell in the little Lonesome Dove church, the sound of Bol whacking the dinner bell. He even slept within the sound of Pea Eye’s snoring, which was as regular as the ticking of a clock.

But here there was no sound, not any. The coyotes were silent, the crickets, the locusts, the owls. There was only the sound of his own horse grazing. From him to the stars, in all directions, there was only silence and emptiness. Not the talk of men over their cards, nothing. Though he had ridden hard he felt strangely rested, just from the silence.

I read this passage not long after being on a silent retreat, but even there I could hear the sounds of a nearby highway, ongoing construction, the comings and goings of families, children playing soccer, the hum of electricity, the blowing of an air conditioner, the creaking of doorways, the flushing of toilets.

But at least for a moment, through the reading of a novel, I could imagine a deeper silence, and long for it.

Renounce Them All

From Alan Jacobs’ newsletter:

The rite for Holy Baptism in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer contains a series of renunciations:

Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God?
I renounce them.

Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?
I renounce them.

But in the old 1662 book, the whole matter is conveyed more tersely:

Dost thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the carnal desires of the flesh; so that thou wilt not follow nor be led by them?
I renounce them all.

I love that: “I renounce them all.” All that crap, totally renounce it, no exceptions. I’m done with every bit of it. RENOUNCE.