Faith, Vintage Television

Channel 16, Father Hesburgh, and the Prayer for Peace

Kids today don’t know how good they have it, with Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network delivering animation to their living rooms 24x7x365. During my 1970s-80s childhood, we got cartoons on Saturday mornings and for an hour after school, and that was it. My brother and I liked animation so much that we’d rise early on Saturday morning to not miss a single show.

We started on Channel 16 because they aired the Japanese anime Battle of the Planets right after sign on. Channel 16, WNDU-TV, was our local NBC station. We had no idea how unusual it was that it was owned by the University of Notre Dame. All we knew was that during sign-on they played a recording of University President Father Theodore Hesburgh reading of the Prayer for Peace of St. Francis of Assisi.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.
Amen.

I heard that recording so often that even today I can recite most of this prayer from memory. I haven’t heard that recording in 30 years until someone recently uploaded a 1985 sign-off that included it. Here it is!

I wasn’t raised in the faith. What I saw of Christians as a kid tended to repel me. (Here’s a story about how.) But hearing Father Hesburgh read this gentle prayer on those Saturday mornings gave me hope that perhaps somewhere people lived their faith in these ways. That’d be a faith worth following. When I sought God, I looked for him in people this quiet and humble.

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Faith, Personal

Three good things

Continuing a theme of thanksgiving, here’s a post I wrote in 2008.

A couple years ago a friend sent me a link to an article (which I can’t find now) about the virtues of thinking each day of three good things that had happened. She and I decided to try it together, e-mailing each other our list of three every evening. I was surprised to find that on all but the most challenging days I could find at least three pleasures, even as small as “I enjoyed my cheeseburger at lunch,” and recalling them actually relieved some of the day’s pressures. But optimism never swelled in me, as the article promised, and I started to lose interest. I think my friend did, too, because our e-mails became intermittent and then stopped.

One of the themes of Ecclesiastes is that life is difficult, so enjoy the good things God gives you while you have them. The book calls out several good things – spouses, children, youth, food, drink. The more I encountered that theme as I studied Ecclesiastes late last year, the more I thought about the aborted three-good-things exercise. I decided to give it another try – but this time, I would tell my three daily things to God, since he gave them to me.

In these prayers I soon found myself grateful to God for each day’s good things. Moreover, I started to see that God was there with gifts on every single day, and the more difficult the day, the more subtle – but sublime – the gifts. I started to feel like a child on Easter morning looking for hidden eggs.

My Red Matrix

My car, all shined up

Last Thursday I was driving home from a trip to Brown County with my sons when my car’s transmission started to whine, pop, and grind. I wasn’t sure the car would get us home, and we had 50 miles to go. I was worried about being stranded and about the repair bill. But I also felt the breeze softly touching my skin through my open window and enjoyed the long shadows the trees and cornfields cast onto the highway in the afternoon sun. As the car rolled with the highway through the old farm towns, my sons and I sang along with the CD playing. I really enjoyed the drive even though the car occasionally popped out of gear. Not long ago, I would have experienced and remembered only the worry. Looking for God’s daily gifts has made me more receptive to them when they come. And knowing that there are daily gifts takes some sting out of the difficulties. My mechanic just called to say the transmission is fried, and that it will cost upwards of $3,000 to replace it. I’m sure God has hidden a gift even in this.

Footnote: I replaced that transmission, and then promptly ran a red light and totaled the car. (Read about it here.) The gift hidden in all of this? I had only lately become financially fortunate enough that none of this created a money crisis for me, and these expensive events helped me to see it – and relax about money.

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Faith, Personal

The fundamentals

I tried out for basketball in the fifth and sixth grades. I didn’t make the cut either year, but Coach Bottorff always encouraged me. “You learned some fundamentals in here,” he said. “You keep practicing them and maybe you can play next year.”

I didn’t really want to play basketball. My mom made me try out because she thought it would make my dad happy. So of course I didn’t practice my layups or do my Maravich drills. No wonder I never made it onto the team. Playing basketball took commitment to fundamentals that would build my skills, and I certainly didn’t have that commitment.

When I came to Christ, I wanted do whatever it was Christians did, but I had no idea what those things were. I had commitment, but no coach to teach me the fundamentals. I went along like this for several years. I could tell I wasn’t growing. It frustrated me, and I wondered, “Is this all there is? This isn’t any better than my life without Christ.”

misc_flower_2Fortunately, I didn’t give up before I encountered a few key people, spiritual coaches if you will, who showed me some fundamentals. Here’s the guts of what I learned.

James 4:7 says, “Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” I think it’s interesting how submitting to God is mentioned in the same breath as resisting the devil. I think that it tells us that submitting to God is a way to accomplish resisting the devil. Not that we shouldn’t resist in other ways. I don’t know about you, but I was able to put away some of my sins by my own will power. I resisted them through force of will. My will power was not enough, however, to overcome some of my other sins, and I kept doing them. Those kinds of sins are what lead us, in our dark moments, to doubt our salvation. Those sins, I think this verse tells us, we must submit to God and let him take away.

James reinforces this point in verse 8. He says, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” Notice how drawing near to God is mentioned in the same breath as cleansing your hands and purifying your hearts. Again, where we can cleanse our hands and purify our hearts through force of our own will, we should do it. But we all have sins where will fails, and there only drawing near to God will make us clean. But this verse adds a thought not present in verse 7. It says that as we draw near to God, God will draw near to us. Could it be that God’s drawing near to us is what makes our sins diminish and disappear?

In verse 9, James says, “Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy to gloom.” This is a verse of repentance. Interesting how James speaks of repentance in the next breath after talking about submitting to God and drawing near to him. I think James is drawing a relationship between repentance and turning to God.

Repentance is just turning away from sin. Sin is just actions that miss the mark, fall short of God’s standards, and, most importantly to this discussion, show that we have turned away from God and are going in the wrong direction. So repentance is just turning back toward God. You know, submitting to him. Drawing near to him. God loves it when we do that, and draws near to us in return.

Finally, James says in verse 10, “Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.” Repentance is an act of humility; it involves admitting failure and trying to change ways. I think James is saying that submitting and drawing near are acts of humility, too, because he talks about them in the same context as repentance. So what is the result of this humility? God exalts you. The Greek word hupsoo (hup SO o), translated as exalt here, means to raise to dignity, honor, and happiness. This, then, is the result of submitting to God and drawing near to him: He lifts you up and gives you dignity, honor, and happiness.

misc_flower_1Can you imagine it? The more you turn to God, the more he gives you his grace and makes you holy. This is a gift from God, but you have to go to him to get it. And it is not a once-and-for-all gift. You have to keep turning to God, because you need his grace every day!

Lamentations 3:22-24 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, For His compassions never fail. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I have hope in Him.'” Every day we can turn again to God to seek his grace, to be close to him, to feel and see him acting in our lives.

But how?

How do you build a relationship with anyone? A best friend? A spouse?

You do it through discipline. I’m not using this word in the sense of punishment or of military precision, but rather in the sense of training yourself to do something or of making something a habit.

I used to have lunch with my oldest friend about once every other week. We stayed up on what was going on in each others’ lives, shared a few laughs, that sort of thing. We felt close because of it. But he moved away two years ago, back to the town we both grew up in, and now I see him only when I’m there visiting family. I don’t know what’s going on in his life very well anymore, and he doesn’t know what’s going on in mine. If I call him, he is happy to hear from me, and we will catch up, but we haven’t built a habit of calling each other. We lost the discipline of contact, and so we drift.

The Bible mentions many disciplines that God’s followers have practiced. Richard Foster explains them in his book, Celebration of Discipline: Meditation, prayer, fasting, study, simplicity, solitude, service, worship, confession, and celebration. These are all ways of drawing near to God. Practiced in the ordinariness of life, they can provide the closeness to God that transforms us.

So get Foster’s book and try these disciplines. Stick with the ones that work best for you. I find fasting to be difficult and unrewarding, but I feel like I grow steadily closer to God as I practice study, meditation, prayer, and solitude. When I let these disciplines fall away, I feel my closeness with God fall away, too. It’s because these are things I have to keep doing, habits I have to maintain – fundamentals, like those infernal Maravich drills for a kid who wants to play basketball.

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Faith, Personal

Three good things

A couple years ago a friend sent me a link to an article (which I can’t find now) about the virtues of thinking each day of three good things that had happened. She and I decided to try it together, e-mailing each other our list of three every evening. I was surprised to find that on all but the most challenging days I could find at least three pleasures, even as small as “I enjoyed my cheeseburger at lunch,” and recalling them actually relieved some of the day’s pressures. But optimism never swelled in me, as the article promised, and I started to lose interest. I think my friend did, too, because our e-mails became intermittent and then stopped.

One of the themes of Ecclesiastes is, “Life is difficult, so enjoy the good things God gives you while you have them.” The book calls out several good things – spouses, children, youth, food, drink. The more I encountered that theme as I studied Ecclesiastes late last year, the more I thought about the aborted three-good-things exercise. I decided to give it another try – but this time, I would tell my three daily things to God, since he gave them to me.

In these prayers I soon found myself grateful to God for each day’s good things. Moreover, I started to see that God was there with gifts on every single day, and the more difficult the day, the more subtle – but sublime – the gifts. I started to feel like a child on Easter morning looking for hidden eggs.

My car

My car

Last Thursday I was driving home from a trip to Brown County with my sons when my car’s transmission started to whine, pop, and grind. I wasn’t sure the car would get us home, and we had 50 miles to go. I was worried about being stranded and about the repair bill. But I also felt the breeze softly touching my skin through my open window and enjoyed the long shadows the trees and cornfields cast onto the highway in the afternoon sun. As the car rolled with the highway through the old farm towns, my sons and I sang along with the CD playing. I really enjoyed the drive even though the car occasionally popped out of gear. Not long ago, I would have experienced and remembered only the worry. Looking for God’s daily gifts has made me more receptive to them when they come. And knowing that there are daily gifts takes some sting out of the difficulties. My mechanic just called to say the transmission is fried, and that it will cost upwards of $3,000 to replace it. I’m sure God has hidden a gift even in this.

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