Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Barnabas, my hero

It took years but we finally made it through the entire Bible for evening devotions, and when we did we felt almost like Adam and Eve, sort of nakedly out of the garden. Now what?

So I reached up on the shelf and pulled out a book of meditations by a whole posse of Christian writers, The Eternal Present, which includes a number of devotions from the pen (well, keyboard) of Madeline L'Engle.

I cringe to admit that fact, scared that someone out there will now refuse to donate to Dordt College, Sioux Center, Iowa. Twenty years ago or so, Madeline L'Engle was a lightning rod for heresy hunters. She was a universalist, they said, and therefore not a believer at all, a wolf in sheep's clothing whose books should be pulled from the shelves of schools who call themselves "Christian." Back then, if you liked Madeline L'Engle's much ballyhooed novels--and you worked in some Christian schools--you kept your head down.

I'm coming clean--I never read a single book by Madeline L'Engle. I'm really not that taken by the fantasy things she did. I met her, personally, several times, and found her a riot--funny as anyone I knew. She wasn't charming, really--she was rather rhino-like as I remember, tough as nails, and (I know this isn't nice to say about women especially) a huge presence. But I never once doubted her faith in Jesus Christ the Lord. We may well not have agreed on every last point of theology, but neither do I and Glen Beck.

Now, every ten days or so, my wife and I come to a little meditation by Madeline L'Engle, and I'm still shy admitting it. That's how virulently some well-meaning Christian people hated her a couple decades ago. But this morning I'm coming out of the closet: I rather like Madeline L'Engle, and I am blessed by her meditations.


The storm is long over anyway, thank the Lord. Maybe someone in cyberworld will read this and toss off a nasty letter to my boss or me, but the conflagration long ago burned itself out. Madeline died several years ago, after a long and sad bout with Alzheimers.

But, Lordy, Lordy, how we can go to war. When I was a boy, one of my favorite songs was "Onward Christian Soldiers." Of course, my dad and million others had just returned from Europe and the South Pacific having defeated the Godless enemy. Soldiers were us, back then. I still love that song, in part, I'm sure, because some remnant of my own sweet childhood comes charging back when I sing it. But I'm glad we don't sing it too often because lots of Christians don't need any greater call to arms than they already hear. It was red-blooded Christian soldiers who burned Ms. L'Engle's books.

All of that comes up once again because our pastor is preaching on the book of Acts. Last week's startlingly fresh insight was: two miracles happened when Saul/Paul was on the road to Damascus. One was the blinding epiphany, and the other was the mere fact that the Jesus people, who knew this Christian-killing wasp all too well, bought the man's unlikely tale of redemption. They let him in. They gave him a place among the chosen. I doubt it was love at first sight, but that the followers of Jesus even let him in the door is blooming miracle.

But behold! There's more to the story. Last night's sermon was on Acts 9:

When he [Saul, now Paul] came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord.
Don't I wish I had the historical record. Don't I wish I could call up the disciples website and buy a transcript of the Barnabas' speech. Don't I wish I'd been a fly on the wall.

I think this man Barnabas should have his own fan club, a statue in Grand Rapids or something. Sometimes I think the gulf that separates Christians is wider and deeper than any other, as it was when some righteous readers went on a book-burning rampage against Madeline L'Engle.

Today, all of that consternation is hot air, only a matter of public record, if that. Tonight maybe, we'll read another meditation by Madeline L'Engle, and I'm sure it will be just fine. We'll be blessed.

What we need--what we always need--is another Barnabas. Don't I wish I could recite that speech.

1 comment:

cortru said...

Where would Christianity be without Barnabas? Would it even be? We don't even know if Barnabas wrote the book of Hebrews (Paul usually gets the credit). Paul wrote much of the NT, but Barnabas is in the background doing the heavy lifting: vouching for Paul to the other disciples, accompanying Paul on missionary journeys, vouching for Mark when Paul had given up on him. And would Mark have written his gospel if that hadn't happened? And if he hadn't, would the other's have written theirs? We owe a debt of gratitude to Barnabas.