Friday, May 30, 2008

Making Sense out of Suffering

Peter Kreeft's book, Making Sense out of Suffering is on my summer reading list 2008. I'm nearly finished with it, and am thankful to Ravi Zacharias folks at RZIM for recommending it. If you are breathing, suffering is a matter with which you struggle. Some souls have more opportunity to engage through suffering than others, no doubt, but it has affected all of us. Kreeft is a philosopher and professor in the discipline at Boston College.
I've always been a railer at God for the whys of sufferings. This exercise, in itself, is futile, but as Kreeft's book helps me see, my fury and questions are no hindrance or setback for God. He deals respectfully with detractors of the Christian faith, but clearly lays out an apologetic for the faith and for the 'good' of suffering.

One syllogism he shares:

If we do not suffer, we are not wise.
If we are not wise, we are not blessed.
Therefore, if we do not suffer, we are not blessed

May we seek the path which God has ordained for us, and not shrink from pains on the path, but enter into the fellowship of his suffering with grace afforded to us by his hand.


Place, belonging, warmth, light abundant in darkness- these are part of what contribute to my enjoyment of bonfires; the human component is primary, the presence of others whose faces and souls add to the fire itself by joining in a circle-testifying to life by telling of tales, and by listening to the telling of them.

I've been invited to such an event this weekend. A friend whose property is spacious and a near perfect setting is hosting a group of friends to come sit and sup by the fire. There'll be no city lights interfering with the blackness of the night sky. Sparks can fly upward, free to be. As with the fire, I feel freer to be in that circle of belonging.

One of my truest longings is the notion of campfires in heaven. As with the gatherings here, on earth, it is not just the fire itself that is attractive, but characters in the play. Often, I ponder what it might be like to sit and sup in Eternity with the likes of Flannery O'Connor, Mrs. Betty Williams, the Good Thief, Johnny Cash, my Aunt Dot, and, say, William F. Buckley.

Given more time, I could come up with dozens of variables of dozens of groups. Saints whose only hope has always been Jesus. What we might discuss, bat around and laugh about often run across the screen in my mind's eye.

The hope of this soon to be bonfire, this earthly one, is a sweet foreshadowing of eternal meetings. It is indeed good to be warmed, to hear and tell a tale, and to belong. For these and countless other gifts, I give thanks to God, the giver.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Mercy of Story

"All sorrows can be borne if you put them into a story or tell a story about them." --Isak Dinesen

I like the authentic hope of Dinesen's words. Yet I hate the suggestion too. She refrains from lilting exhortation. Instead her encouragement is paradox; she challenges us to enter into griefs through telling of tales. Whatever your sorrow(s), may God give us the grace and courage to share them so they may be carried.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Woe unto You..

After breakfast today, I was reading in Luke 11 and noticed the passage where Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in verses 43-44. This part of the chapter I have been familiar with for a long time, and in reading it, I became like the Pharisee who scorned the publican-smug, prideful, full of the oh yeah, that applies to "_____." and "__ " should get to reading it fast. I kept reading and things changed.
It is verse 45 when a lawyer speaks up to say: Master, your saying this to the Pharisees reproaches us also. If I had stopped reading there, I could have come out unscathed. In fact, the lawyer's observation only further resolved my awful pride. You see, my take on it was, how nice of the lawyer to point out to the Lord of creation and truth, the truth. Lawyers, as a rule, fancy being available to all for clarifying the obvious. It is what we do.
What happens next falls into the category of the hard sayings of Jesus. Like a pugilist waiting for his opponents guard to drop, Jesus dealt the lawyer an effective punch in the solar plexus:
Woe unto you also ye lawyers! For ye load men with
burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. .... and in verse 52 he concludes: Woe unto you, lawyers! For ye have taken away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in, ye hindered.

So much for the lawyer being praised for the helpful recap of Jesus' rebuke. Sobered, I got up from the table to drown my pride in strong coffee, shaking my head that Jesus reprimand and merciful entreaty, though death to me in the flesh, is life eternal.

How many times have I looked across counsel table to the Court, a witness, or an adversary and wielded the man-wrought law to suit my purpose, knowing full well I was burdening them all for my gain, or for my position's gain, and not the truth?

Have mercy on me, Lord, a sinner; you dismissed the case against me as you endured my woe.

Monday, May 26, 2008


It was the late eighties and I was about through with God's persistent call. I'd left college disillusioned with faith as I encountered so many good law keepers ardent to tell me I was not doing enough to live out my faith. What I learned and heard in college was in such conflict with the Gospel to which I'd been in exposed through Mrs. Williams and Jane Early. I knew through their teaching I was a sinner saved by grace and there was no way to win God's favor by works of righteousness. The doctrines in college, though overtly Christian, were founded on works righteousness popularized by Alexander Campbell and men of his ilk. So, as I departed college, I longed for a world outside a Christian influence; I wanted to live in the world, and to be of it. Thankfully, God's mercy has delivered me from myself at every curve I recklessly navigated. Though I looked for ways of fleshly self-expression that were common to all, God whispered continually to me beckoning. One such way was through a prayer group I landed in at the suggestion of an old friend. It met downtown and was composed of several women who loved the Lord and whose hearts desire was to meet and pray as God led them. A woman in the group asked me several times if I'd like to join a Bible study in the evenings. Finally, I relented and agreed to go. It had been nearly six or eight years since I'd heard Mrs. Williams or Jane Early. And, keep in mind, I was fairly committed to the idea of taking a vacation from God.

I nestled into the seating at the home off West End Avenue where the study met. It was a women's Bible study and there were a host of them of all different types. We congregated boisterously and most seemed to know each other. When the teacher I'll call Rose took the baton from the woman who opened us in prayer, I sensed immediately she shared the same gift of Betty Williams and Jane Early. The Holy Spirit's cloak was about her. She taught with authority beyond her own voice. Though her personality and human nature were apparent, I heard that constant of truth in her teaching that is simply not possible to counterfeit. I knew then and there, this God I was intent on running from had my number, and he had entrusted it to this teacher, Rose. Whether she was aware of it or not, God wielded her in a way so as to keep me bound to the truth of his Word. For her obedience to the Word, to the Spirit and to the Truth, I am grateful.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

The Blind Woman

Blind as a bat sounds disrespectful. And, it may be. But Jane Early did not need eyes to see God. She immersed herself in the Word, and taught from her swanky Braille KJV translation as it rested on her lap. Her companion, a large yellow lab; the dog's harness was a rich mahogany colored leather. As Jane taught, the dog did not move a muscle. When she excused class the dog would stand and wait until we all departed to escort Jane to her waiting ride. Jane and Mrs. Williams both hailed from Reformed Calvinist traditions and as with Mrs. Williams, we learned as Jane's student right away our dire need for God- it was constant and without Jesus as our intercessor all hope was lost. I forget what caused Jane's blindness. It is not darkness for which she is remembered. As she delivered the message for which she was made, it is the light of God's glory I recall.

Mrs. Williams, The blind woman, Rose, and Gene Part I

These mentioned above are teachers. A small group of ones I was privileged to sit under. There are more. In fact, I could write for the rest of my days about this one topic-teachers. You have heard the saying we do not remember who won the World Series in 1966 off the top of our head, but we tend to remember the names of teachers whose lives made an impact on ours.
Betty Williams was elderly when I first met her in the mid-1970's I was a precocious high school student, eager to please, eager to know the answers to all my questions and desperate not to fear death. Mrs. Williams, I called her, wielded the Scripture as a sword. Even so, she was a compassionate soldier whose aim was to get out of the way and let the Holy Spirit teach. A former high school English teacher, she took great pains to address the grammatical structure of the narrartive. She focused on verbs attributed to God's actions as we started a study of Genesis in the 9th grade, and by the fall of my senior year in high school, we were in the 5th chapter of Genesis. You might presume this slow study to have been boring. Nothing could be further from the truth. She brought her fallen self to the den in which we met Sunday afternoons, pointing us (about 10-12 high school students) to the efficiacy of the Gospel. It was not uncommon for her to regale us with the admonition: "God doesn't want my dark old heart, he wants all of me, he doesn't want your dark heart either, he wants all of you. " Or this: Plug up your ears if someone insists you have a good heart; you don't have a good heart; your heart is dark just like mine, it is intent on having its own way, and only the Lord can harrow our hearts into submission, only he and he alone".
I fondly recall these kernels of truth and give thanks to our gracious God for setting up the circumstances through my parents wisdom and choices, and Betty's bold instruction. My guess is Bible teachers are reluctant to teach the doctrine of sin.
This is a grave pity, for there is no other Gospel save we are sinners in need of a Savior and Jesus took our place. If I cannot acknowledge my sin, I will not worship the God who pursued me while I was yet his enemy. I'll keep seeking what's best for Wallace. This is one of those circuitous truths, If I do not worship him as Lord, I will not turn from sin. Strangely, though, even if I never turn from sin, even if I remain in death and were bound to hell due to my own iron will, his perfect will is that none perish. He always loves; his property is always to have mercy. Ours is but to receive it. Mrs. Williams taught that too, the sweetness of mercy fastened to hard truth. Even as she read us the indictment, she brought the good news; our lives were spared-we had but to thank the Father and receive the gift . Mrs. Williams heralded that Christ's exclusive gift is not just that he died for us, but that he conquered sin and death by rising as he said he would.

No Revelations

Their ignorance gets under my skin. Journalists, other lawyers, readers in general who mention the last book in the New Testament without having taken care to read what the title to the book says. It, the title is not plural and it refers to an event that had many facets to it, but it, The Revelation is that, and it was that of one man, Saint John the beloved disciple. Revealed by God in Christ. It is the bestseller of all time, last book in the book, go see for yourself.

It pains me when it is overlooked and published in the newspaper or a legal journal is something on the order of : "Revelations contains the narrative from which end times writers get their material about..." other examples are strewn throughout respected periodicals, and in the entertainment business.
Literary minded folk are not likely to let anyone get away with describing T.S. Eliot's epic as "The Wastelands." Or what if I walked up to Bob DeNiro in a posh Tribe ca restaurant and said: I adore your work in Taxi Drivers!" ? May be that I'd be tolerated with a sigh or smug over the shoulder glance it if was just once but if I repeated it over and over every time DeNiro and I had lunch, No. Wait. I suspect if it happened a few times, I'd be shunned, not invited back to the restaurant, or even banned, perhaps an injunction would be sought. If it were the T. S. Eliot example in an academic setting, my guess is the tenured professors and doctoral candidates listening to me insistently prattle on about Wastelands would ignore me and avoid me when they saw me coming.
Or, maybe, just maybe, an interested soul might pull me to the side and say, "uh, Wallace, did you know that Eliot's poem is the Wasteland, that's l-a-n-d."? " Uh, you are aware it is Taxi Driver, that's Dri-ver. No S."

The point being that writers, makers of craft, are intentional about the naming of things. I submit the writers of the Biblical narrative were intentional because they were prompted by God himself, who, if he is God, I mean, in charge God, would certainly be less of a God, and therefore not much of one if he willy-nilly did not concern himself with words. I'm guessing Scorsese and Eliot feel much the same, as they are little gods.

Here's a revelation -all we little g gods, like me for instance, tend to get caught up in the performance, in the doing it right, respectably and well. Like pointing out to wrongdoers their repeated offenses. God, being perfect and needing no standard against whom to measure himself, wants to reveal who he himself is. He knew well and perfectly well I could keep no law and that I'd fall short every time. His holiness is so infinite and complete yet his desire is so great, it compelled him to die to make the way. He left heaven where the security of doing it right was not even a consideration. There he was in perfect communion with the Father and the Spirit. And here, to this place where we like to chatter about the correct way, the best way, and my way or the highway, he came and is the eternal example of perfection. Perhaps the next time it flies across my screen [the 's' on the end thing], I could ask more of the them, see who they are; maybe I could recall he saved me from myself, from self's demand for perfect, rather than dismiss them for an intrusion on my vain effort to live error free.

Sweet Home Alabama ?

I'm in the deep south, at the Gulf Coast of Alabama. Lynyrd Skynyrd's well-known anthem plays juxtaposed to Neil young's protest song in my sleepy head. I loved both of these songs as a kid. I remember the Harvest album of Neil Young because mine had a scratch on it right in the middle of the Alabama song. I also had a Lynyrd Skynrd double LP, Gold and Platinum greatest hits record. The songs were not in conflict in my white, privileged world, when I first heard them. I payed little attention to the substance of the words as a youngster; they had no application for me. I was shielded from overt racial tensions when my parents sacrificed to put me and my sister in private school at the start of busing in my hometown. Still, the divide was plain. We didn't learn with children from different backgrounds, we did not worship with their families either. Everything about my world was white, upper middle class, and safe, or so I thought.
Today, I witnessed Bitter Home Alabama. I lay basking in the breeze available to all this morning, when a black couple, whose lienage may or may not be African, and for facts sake they may or may not be Americans, so I refer to them as black. To my left, underneath a University of Alabama umbrella was perched a white couple, whose lineage may or may not be English, Dutch, Swedish, or German, but for brevity's sake, I call them white: I have no time for hyphens. As the black couple strolled past me, I caught wind of the white couple's editorial on the presence of Blacks. Quite literally, too. The acrid words falling from their lips floated in my direction on the neutral breeze;

"You see more and more of them up and down the beaches these days." "Uh-huh umm,.."

I looked up and caught their chubby blanched faces only ten feet away; I wanted to acknowledge I heard their pitiful exchange. The caught woman waved in my direction as if asserting some solidarity. All I could do was stare back and ponder the irony of hundreds of white folk lying in the sunny breeze, trying to acquire the perfect tan. By this time, the black couple was twenty five yards away, no worse for the wear, because, it seemed, they'd not received the poison trickling from syrupy sweet lips.

This eavsedropping on the wind sang a sad song of the Alabama in which the white couple live and the one for which Neil Young lamented.

And on my record, Neil's Alabama goes like this:

Alabama, you got the weight on your shoulders that's breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back,
breaking your back... After I could take the melancholy no more, I would walk across the room, take the stylus off the record, sigh, and start it over at Heart of Gold, knowing the back breaking would come again all too soon.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Charles Colson & friends..

How could I forget you? He belongs in the Links post, and I have learned how to edit posts, but I decided to put him right here, so you (if you're reading) will not miss the link.

Chuck is the guy who went to prison for his Watergate misdeeds. He wrote a story about it, title escapes me right now. He's written several books since then. I admire him. He was a rotten criminal, an attorney, and he gave his life to Christ, excepting all other gods. His literary voice ( yes, literary) is compassionate, firm, and assured because of the finished work of Christ. Go get some coffee, read him-and the others...

Friday, May 23, 2008


No, not golf, or short for those fussy things folk wear on french cuffed shirts. But a reference, a tie in, a way to those for whom, and with whom I stand. Some is blogspots, some are internet sites. I'm new at this fancy 21st century blogdom. There's bound to be a more cool, efficient way of listing links, but ladies and gents, this is as good as it gets right now. This is my answer to preserving the card-file system in your local library. Amused? I thought so. - friend and fellow pilgrim, Danny Bryant of Franklin Tennessee. He loves the gospel of Christ; a teacher by trade, he instructs young minds by Truth. These youngsters, including his own, will not grasp til heaven the impact of his teaching. Wide is the circle. Danny's sports commentary; another window into his widening circle for the Gospel. writes like a man on fire, also loves the Gospel it is not rush limbaugh's cousin bob, it is a veritable delight. Pacific Northwestern fellow who engages the culture for the sake of truth John Piper. He can flat send out the word. - a Journal you to which you should subscribe William F. Buckley's legacy pretty dang serious conservative thought petit Wall Street Journal online theology from a Reformed perspective. fun stuff - yeah. so, I'm a sports fiend. all you ever wanted to know about movies. and some things you didn't your daily dose of Garrison Keillor Abraham Piper twentysomething pilgrim coolest museum I never visited. Yet. Visual Arts Center, right here, Nashville. It does not qualify as a museum because its focus is not a permanent collection. But come on! Don't miss it. poetry. the essence of cool. more swank verse. ditto -everything single malt a treasure trove bookstore- Franklin Tennessee, Joel & Carol

Tomlin proprietors Grizzard/Robertson cousins wealth of creativity the Grizzard- Robertson union, an unfolding of their

built lives together need some copy, editing? this is the place. hippy dippy cool site of oldest friend Tom Woodard.

Somebody stop me. I could link you til the cows come home. And that'll be awhile since I live in suburbia. So, keep these or toss.

Time to turn this contraption off. Peace.

Anniversaries Part II

May 23, to borrow a phrase from fellow cripple FDR, is "a day that will live in infamy"*

May 23, 2005, I was hellbent on destruction. It took the breaking of my very neck to thwart me from pursuit of darkness. What unfolds is that was not enough...
It was noon, I was hungry in more way than one and I was in the middle of prosecuting a 14 year old girl for assaulting a teacher, a fellow student, and bus driver. After we, the State, had put on our proof in 3/4 of the case, the Judge decided to break for lunch. Agitated, over the present reality of a choice I had in front of me, which had nothing to do with the juvenile trial in progress, I rushed out to get a sandwich and soup. Motoring in my trusty Japanese sedan, without my seat belt, fidgeting with my cell phone, wringing my proverbial hands, going every which way but to God about that decision, I crossed South Fifth and Woodland and life changed.
My car was struck (twice actually) by a fleeing felon who ran the light; struck once in the rear passenger side, which flipped the car on an imaginary axis, and the second time in the front passenger side. Eventually the front of my car careened into a sturdy twentieth century light pole, head on. When I came to, I was folded like a cheap tent; my feet, unshod, were tangled in the armrest of the driver's side door. My bleeding head was face down in the passenger floorboard.
No air was available. That involuntary, less than intentional thing we do all day, every day, and even at night when we sleep, had stopped. I clutched my neck, and as despair was giving way to peaceful resignation that I was going to check out with my skirt over my hip, mooning the south bound lane of South Fifth Street, a gust of air invaded my lungs. Sweet Jesus, I was in terrible pain but alive. I can only surmise it was the gear shift in the center console that had knocked me clean into breathlessness. When I learned hours later my neck was broken, the weighty decision, about which I was troubled, was moot. The humbling epilogue to this chapter of my life is that when presented with a similar choice some five months later, I recklessly chose death-again.
The sordid detail of my choices is not the point. What is prescient, remarkable and worth shouting from the rooftops is this: God's mercies are new every morning! I was committed to enmity with God and nearly chose to give it up for my own thirty pieces of silver. On this third year anniversary of my flight into South Fifth Street, I am reminded of God's great love for me, even when I am faithless. He was, is and will be faithful to his word, to the point of pain.

*Roosevelt's words when addressing the country after the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor in December 1941.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Born Lame John 9: 1-7

I'm Wallace Mercer; I hate shoes and I like to write. I was born lame, with cerebral palsy; a case of hemiplegia that affects my left side. I was, according to sketchy details, stuck in the birth canal for an inordinate and dangerous amount of time; the loss of oxygen impaired function that is permanent, so far. Railing and fuming with God and anyone who'll listen for years, but now learning by God's terribly rich mercy to leap for joy. It is in listening and dying that I learn to change, I can choose death in exchange for real life, real ever, ever life. I'm no trained theologian, but submit to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The positively supreme & transforming Gospel.
This story of the blind man is a sort of comfort and a sort of disturbance; at least the parents were deemed to be off the hook- Jesus set the disciples' inquiry straight: it was not the parents who'd sinned, as the "feeble somebody must pay minded" motley followers believed. This blind man, he was healed and walked away seeing. Look around. Healing, it seems, is for the few who are born missing a part, or a function. And so begins the blog of the fussy, rabble rousing cripple, who liked (and sometimes likes it still) to argue with God. If I seriously consider the weight of the Gospel, I may not see healing here, in fact, I probably will not, but oh the promise of that day. In the mean, meantime might I trust Jesus' hard saying..?

" but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed...."

Once I was lame in body and blind in soul; Now, redeemed, I limp toward Eternity, waiting in body, but soul assured. I said assured, not blissful. Thanks be to God.

Anniversaries of Joy, Part I

It's said that Charles Wesley wrote the hymn, "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" in 1739 on the on one year anniversary of his conversion to Christ. A fellow named Glaser (with two dots over the middle of his name) musicalized Wesley's earnest poem. Here's the first verse and the stanza from which I borrowed the title to this nifty little blog.

"O for a thousand tongues to sing

My great Redeemer’s praise,

The glories of my God and King,

The triumphs of His grace!.....

Hear Him, ye deaf; His praise,

ye dumb,Your loosened tongues

employ;Ye blind, behold your Savior come,

And leap, ye lame, for joy.

I've a friend who's at this logging thoughts into space. He regularly posts hymns I have never heard or sung before. I like learning new ones, have many saved and looked forward to worshipping our Lord one day forever in singing them. On the other hand, Wesley's many were staples in the church which I attended as a child. This particular one is, and was a favorite of mine. I remember my dad holding his hymnal out and lowering it a bit so I could see and sing along; my dad's deep baritone voice fully engaging the melody. Every so often, dad would start singing the harmony, and off I'd go, on the same trail, sometimes making the note, sometimes not, but seldom, if ever, staying on the melody. He'd gaze over his glasses, quizzical that I'd not harmonized. I wanted to sing with him, to go with him on that wild adventure of hymn singing!
268 years ago Wesley penned this verse and left us a great legacy to share our faith. Much thanks, Charles Wesley. Much thanks to that other Charles too, my dad, whose singing of hymns is one of his greatest joys. Now, go leap for it.