Saturday, April 16, 2011

What Was--and Is--Holy Week All About?

Palm Sunday is a good time for pondering. Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, below the surface of it, is filled with implications that many did not see when it first occurred and many more do not fathom even yet.

For one thing, it represented the fulfillment of an ancient prophecy concerning the coming of the Messiah. For another, the humility with which Jesus entered the Holy City--not to mention week-long events following that led to his crucifixion on Good Friday--evidence clearly what kind of Messiah God intended him to be. Not until his divine mission was confirmed by his resurrection on Easter morn did who he truly was begin to break through. And even in all the centuries ever since believers in him have not fully grasped the magnitude of it all.

Rob Bell speaks in his new book on Love Wins (Harper One, 2011) about "the beauty of the historic, orthodox Christian faith," calling it "a deep, wide, diverse stream that's been flowing for thousands of years, carrying a staggering variety of voices, perspectives, and experiences."

I share his hope to introduce Christians everywhere "to the ancient, ongoing discussion surrounding the resurrected Jesus in all its vibrant, diverse, messy, multivoiced complexity." To let this week go by with no more than ideas already so fixed in our minds that there is no need to ponder further its life-changing implications for each of us would inevitably be to trivialize it and miss out on its promise.

Listen carefully, therefore, for what was really going on in all that then went on. And long for the day when Messiah as he is will use your pondering of his journey through this week to further transform your life.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Dream That Touched Reality

It happened overnight, in a dream no less. A new and fresh revelation, a least for me--exciting, and full of implication for the healing of the nations. "Do you realize," I heard a voice say, "that the Lord's Prayer--first offered by Jesus as a model for our praying--would be equally appropriate as a prayer model for a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew, and people of every other religious persuasion, tribe, and nation?"

No, I hadn't realized that. It had never entered my mind. Yet the more I thought about it the more excited I became. From the "Our Father"--meant to be inclusive of all people on this earth--through the assigning of ourselves to the coming of his kingdom and the doing of his will to the pleas for daily bread, forgiveness received and offered, and guidance away from temptation, the whole of life is covered for the whole of humanity. And the language used is as neutral to circumstance as it is universal in character.

What mattered to Jesus, it seems, and must matter to us all as children of one Father, is the honoring of his name and will. Prayer, to be meaningful, must enter humbly into mysteries that transcend all the categories into which we have separated ourselves as human beings. Its aim must always be to look to the One who created us and waits always in the wings to bring us back to himself and one another.

At the center of it all for me, of course, is the person and work of Jesus Christ. But all of us who share that faith must be careful not to bind him to categories of our own making or conclusions concerning him we have arrived at on our own. Ours is not to guide him into the dark abysses of our tomorrows. It is rather to follow after him and his Spirit, which can never be captured by us but is always ready to lead us along life's way.

I woke refreshed this morning from my dream, freed once again from the awful burden so many are taking on themselves these days of pretending to know more about God and his will than they do. My most fervent prayer, both for myself and for them, is rather to approach life and all its complications in the spirit of the hymn writer who affirmed what I know to be true, that "God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain" (The Covenant Hymnal: A Worshipbook, No. 418).

Sunday, April 10, 2011

All These Paul!

"Dad, Grandpa, Rabbai, Paul" are the signatures he assigns at the end of his weekly reports from his current teaching post in Pingliang, China. With commas in between they are meant to personalize his reflections for each of those to whom he is sending them over time. But it occurs to me that all of them, strung together without commas, might be just as appropriate to us as individuals. Dad Grandpa Rabbai Paul Swanson captures who he is better than any of those first names might in itself.

Teacher Counselor Mentor Friend and Lover of Youth might also be added to get an even fuller picture of the man. See how this retired widower hugs a child from a local orphanage nearby the school where he has taught for some time and is even now teaching. A true professor, equally at home in exploring and explaining C. S Lewis and laying all that sophistication aside for the sake of an orphaned child. Needs are everywhere around us, both to be taught and to be loved. Soon the child will need the professor, but for now she needs a Dad or Grandpa, someone just to embrace and hold her, someone to throw her lonely arms around--someone, anyone who will take the time to pick her up, whose name she does not know and will not likely remember.

That is exactly the one who holds the little orphan girl above! His name? Dad Grandpa Rabbai Paul Teacher Counselor Mentor Friend and Lover of Youth Swanson--to which if truth be told should also be added Cook Baker of Delicious Breads and Host at Tables Spread with Swedish Pancakes. What a man, what a friend, what a servant, what a witness!

Bless you All These Paul, and keep you in pursuit of God's claim on your life and his call to teach, share, and model his grace with people everywhere. Unassuming as you are, you may not recognize yourself in all the above, but take it from me: God does, and so do we!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

A Seed Dies, but Its Fruit Lives On

The Covenant Office building at 5101 N. Francisco in Chicago will soon be no more. The process of its demolition was announced on CovNews this morning, as illustrated above. Offices into the future are now consolidated at 8303 Higgins Road, out close to O'Hare Airport--a necessary move both for the sake of more room and for the gathering in of several departments that for years have had to be housed elsewhere.

Strange, I thought, that the big backhoe should be entering early on through the window that for many years housed the denomination's department of Church Growth and Evangelism. Thus continues the emergence of the Covenant Church on the American scene, one more step in the journey that years ago as I was grwoing up found its headquarters on Belmont Avenue. The move to 5101 came in the latter years of T.W. Anderson's presidency, where it has thrived through all the years since until now. I knew 5101 well, every part of it, spending 28 years there myself as part of its ministry of publications.

Let honor be given to all that was accomplished there, through later presidencies of Clarence Nelson, Milton Engebretson, Paul Larsen, Glenn Palmberg, and Gary Walter, now continuing in new quarters. And, lest we forget, honor to everyone that was part of those rich days in furthering our common mission. Buildings, however inadeqaute in some ways, leave behind them a sense of place far more important to the soul of a movement than mere brick and mortar.

The seed of all that is falling into the earth, and we must let it go--like every place we have ever inhabited together in our pilgrimage over time. No doubt 8303 West Higgins Road will also pass into memory some day, as will all those now leading us from there. Pray only that the soul of 5101 N. Francisco, as well as the earlier soul on which it fed after the move from Belmont Avenue, will continue to infuse and enrich the soul of the new leadership post now established on our journey together.

The divine/human saga continues in us which began when Father Abraham, believing and trusting in God, went out "to a land he knew not where." In every time since then, we remain no less than he and his seed a pilgrim people, still looking ahead to an ageless place and city whose builder and maker is God.