Much of my musing lately has returned me to the fact that I am turning 76 on Monday. In introducing our Ashland Symphony Orchestra concert in March, I observed a sobering fact learned while reading in preparation for the "Mostly Mozart" program: when Mozart was my age, he had been dead for forty years! In looking for a visual to accompany this meditation I thought about using Salvador Dali's Surrealist painting, "The Persistence of Memory", but melting clock faces sliding off tables and draped over tree branches were too sad (and reminiscent of what time seems to do during quarantine!). Then, looking for a picture of an actual 1944 calendar, I discovered this World War II "Propaganda Calendar" with an encouraging reminder from Winston Churchill himself: "Individual Responsibility Is the Cornerstone of Democracy", with the footnote: "It all depends on me". Necessary words for war-weary people in 1944; nor irrelevant for us in the midst of a pandemic in 2020.
In preparation for virtual preaching next week for The Course of Study School of Ohio where I teach (online this time – I still can't believe it!), I have been reading through Paul's "Letter to the Philippians", my favorite epistle. I came to the third chapter where Paul describes breaking with his past so he can be fully committed to Christ. So much so, that he regards all that went before as pure loss, even rubbish, "because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (3:8a). As a student of history, I have always found this passage somewhat troubling. I am my history: my DNA, parentage and family, education, relationships, marriage, children and grandchildren, teachers and mentors, churches and parishioners, deeds and misdeeds. This reminds me of Walt Whitman’s dramatic poetic claim, "I contain multitudes."
What gives me perspective on Paul's apparent scuttling of his past is found a few verses down from his describing the deep desire to be fully engaged with Christ and the power of his resurrection: "Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus" (3:12-14). So then, my past has brought me to the present moment. I can build on it without being mired in it. I can look back at it, but not return to it; I can appreciate it without making it an idol. All necessary movement in life and faith is forward, so I press on. This was the text on which Bishop Francis Kearns preached at my ordination in 1970. Ministry is "pressing on"; life is "pressing on".
I am inspired that the call is upward (no coincidence that I was born on Ascension Day, 1944?), and that the call is heavenly: I think about that, too, nowadays. A favorite cartoon shows an older gentleman reading in the next room. One little boy says, "Why do you suppose Grandpa reads his Bible so much?" The other boy replies, "I think he’s cramming for his finals!" Maybe he's just pressing on. Again, it has to do with perspective. Still active in two churches, I am still blessed to be in ministry. I am retiring from seminary teaching this summer, but I have been taught the value of lifelong learning. Fifty years of marriage and a family that blesses me renews me every day, so I press on. A favorite valediction of mine is from the great 20th century statesman and one of my personal heroes, Dag Hammarskjold: "For all that has been – thanks! For all that is to be – yes!"
Another personality who has caught my imagination is the architect Frank Lloyd Wright, whose creative style and innovative buildings revolutionized architecture. While his personal life was a bit of a soap opera, his bold espousal of his aesthetic philosophy and principles of work and craft continues to inspire me. When asked by a fledgling architect what he regarded as his greatest work, Wright confidently replied, "Why the next one young man, my next one!"
Faithfully, in love, Pastor Tom+