Saturday, February 28, 2004

The Way of the Cross

Last night, I went with a group from church to see The Passion of the Christ . Here's my personal take on it:

Mel Gibson's movie was extremely well-made. Sometimes movies that get so much media hype don't have much more than hype going for them. This is not the case with The Passion. It takes us step-by-step with Jesus of Nazareth through his night of prayer at Gethsemane to his arrest, sentencing and the tortuous steps along the Via Dolorosa to his death...and ultimate triumph.

The movie is, in essence, an expanded version of the Stations of the Cross, a contemplative and prayerful series of meditations on Christ's last hours. If you want more information on Stations of the Cross, there are a number of Web sites you can visit. Here are a couple of good ones:

I've heard a couple of critics say that, "well, the movie's not a very good tool of evangelism." I agree with that -- and I don't think Gibson meant it to be. The Stations of the Cross is meaningful for someone already in their faith, not so comprehensible for someone in the exploratory steps of Christianity.

Though the movie focuses on the last 12 hours of Jesus' life, we see significant Gospel passages through a series of flashbacks. The whole basic Gospel story is there for the faithful, whether enacted or suggested.

The movie was as brutal and bloody as advertised. I could not watch some of the scenes of the Romans' flogging of Jesus, or of the crucifixion. There is something to be said for realism in this context, though. How can we understand what Jesus suffered for us with a bland, sanitized version? The depth of the wounds and the amount of blood were still short of reality, but I don't think any caring person could take that much realism.

The brutality and bloodiness of it invite us to consider the unredeemability (to coin a word) of the human race. Jesus' love, compassion and mercy toward those who tortured and crucified him are sharply contrasted by the brutish cruelty of the soldiers; Pilate's sin of doing the wrong thing for expediency, denying his conscience; and the arrogance and pride of the priests that led them to scheme to get rid of this upstart troublemaker.

We see the goodness of humanity in Simon of Cyrene, in the Roman soldier who has a change of heart, in Claudia, Veronica, and Peter, despite his betrayal of Jesus.

I did not see anything anti-Semitic in the movie. It reinforced the collaboration between the Jews and the Romans to bring about Jesus' death, representing all humanity. The sins of the human race -- past, present and future --brought Jesus to Golgotha.

We see what we -- the human race -- have done to the Christ. Flashbacks, revealing the truly beautiful Jesus radiating a beautiful spirituality are in sharp contrast to the blood-caked horror we have made him.

Isaiah 52:14-15, NIV:
Just as there were many who were appalled at him
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man
and his form marred beyond human likeness-
so will he sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him.
For what they were not told, they will see,
and what they have not heard, they will understand.

We see Jesus, already beaten, look with heart-melting compassion on Judas, who is cowering in fear and wretchedness at the realization of what he has done.

This is the movie's central theme: the enormity of what Jesus has done for us, in His love for us. Such compassion evidenced under the most extreme circumstances calls for a response from us: to love and worship Christ for the work of redemption He has done to reconcile us to God; to repent of the ugliness and violence we do to each other; to exercise mercy and forgiveness toward each other as Christ has done to us.

It made me very aware of my failings as a Christian -- my pettiness, my unfaithfulness -- things that bring the common confession to life: "I have sinned against you in thought, word and deed. I have not loved You with my whole heart. I have not loved my neighbor as myself."

I think of the times I have wished for someone to get what he or she deserves. God have mercy on me if we were to get what we deserved. How can I ask mercy for myself and not for my neighbor? "Love one another as I have loved you."

I could feel each stripe from the flog, each nail in the hand and feet, the racking pain as the cross was lifted. This is what I deserve as a miserable member of the human race. But Christ brought us mercy, not justice. The greatest paradox is that "by His stripes we are healed."

God does find in us something worth redeeming.

I can only ask forgiveness, from Christ and from those whom I have wounded in any way.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

The Purpose Driven Life - Chapters 5 and 6
or, "We Live by works."

Short and off the cuff:

Okay, I have to admit I'm getting a little annoyed. I read chapter 4 yesterday and chapter 5 today, but didn't journal about 4 yesterday.

Chapter 4 is "Made to Last Forever," in which author Rick Warren emphasizes that this life is only a preparation for the next life, and "While life on earth offers many choices, eternity offers only two: heaven or hell...there are eternal consequences to everything you do on earth."

He says just as life in our mothers' wombs prepared us for life in this world, so life in this world prepares us for life in the next world. "The deeds of this life are the destiny of the next."

Some of my views of eternity were influenced by Francis MacNutt, a former Dominican priest who became a leader in the healing movement in the church. He taught that life eternal is not something separate from life now -- it is all one line -- life eternal. We've already begun it. It's not something we get after we're dead. I think of it as one of those time lines you might see in a history book, with color-coded eras. I see life here and life hereafter -- all part of one line, one pink segment and one green segment, joined together.

That means salvation begins here and now. Our lives are subject to redemption here and now. We can experience healing here and now.

Chapter 5 -- "Seeing Life from God's View." It's all about earning brownie points for heaven. Life is a trust, a test (that we must get grades on) and a temporary assignment (during which God has out his pad and pencil, making notes on how well we're doing). Warren talks about how we steward our possessions and our money. (I was getting uneasy at the prospect of some gospel of prosperity). Again, it was all about works. There is truth to this. Faith without works is not a faith, for faith impels us to works.

But I would like to hear some about grace. It is grace that saves us, not our own efforts. They are a response to grace.

This whole Lenten season of reflection and introspection is about a world without grace, a world without Christ Jesus.

A Lenten reflection:

I am dust

I am grass that withers and dies in drought,
tinder for the fire that burns.
I am black ash that rises to the sky
and settles back down over the dull brown earth.
I am nothing, scattered by the wind.
I wait for the springtime rain,
the saving rain that searches the earth,
that feeds my parched dry roots
and brings from me new shoots of green.

--the Unsaintly Pat, 2-26-04
Toby's choice

Some of you may remember my brother, Toby (The Other Brother), from postings in the fall. Toby stayed with me for a short time after a bout of extreme drinking that led to a hospital stay to detox and get over the DTs. He moved out of my house to avoid going into a residential treatment program, for the agreement for him staying here was that he would go as soon as an opening came up.

Toby was back in the hospital last week, suffering from health complications from damage to his liver. He hadn't been drinking as much this time as before, but his landlady had kicked him out due to his drinking. Toby was now talking about residential treatment again.

He hinted about coming to stay with me again. I prayed about this and talked to a friend who has experience as a mental health counselor dealing in substance abuse. I talked to my priest. I prayed some more and told Toby it would be better to find somewhere else to stay.

I kept worrying about it though. It's hard to know the right thing to do. He is my brother and I don't want to abandon him. On the other hand, I don't want to get into a repetitive cycle of manipulative behavior that's bad for everyone involved -- I didn't want to start a pattern, and I was seeing one forming.

Tuesday night, I was weakening when Toby called to say he was at the house of someone he'd met when he was going to AA, who would let him stay there until he found a place.

I called yesterday to see how things were going (I had the phone number from caller ID -- Toby hadn't given it to me). Toby wasn't there, but the AA buddy was, and we talked.

This man sounded very tough (no wonder he was not at the top of Toby's call list). He is a recovered alcoholic. He said he had been through and done pretty much everything Toby has been doing. He almost lost his wife and family. He said the best thing his own mother did for him was quit trying to help him quit drinking and just pray for him -- this way, he wasn't able to try to make his behavior his mother's fault.

He said he told Toby that Toby had to choose what he wants. He can't try to make me or anyone else responsible. Toby has to decide whether he wants to go to AA or treatment, find friends or be alone. It is his decision alone. He gave Toby a schedule of all the AA meetings in the area and suggested that Toby find a place where he can easily get back and forth to work and to AA meetings -- but it's Toby's choice.

He had Toby call me when he came in. I don't think Toby was thrilled that his friend and I had talked, but that's OK. I told him I love him, but I am staying out of his decisions entirely -- again, it's his decision and his only whether he gets sober or continues to drink and die. (His health is already seriously compromised.) We agreed to stay in contact and get together for dinner and visits. I hope he will stay in contact.

I have been thanking God since I had the conversation with Toby's AA buddy. I prayed for the Holy Spirit to take charge, and I think He has. This is another chance for Toby to have life. This man knows all the cons, deceits and tricks of someone in the throes of this addiction and will stand firm and tell Toby objectively what his options are.

Sadly, last night Toby wasn't talking any more about seeking a treatment program. I think my impression was correct -- he was using it as a hook. He friend invited him to go to AA to hear a witness he would be giving today. I'm just praying for Toby. That he will take advantage of this and whatever chances for healing God brings his way.

I'm going to just keep praying and thanking God.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

What drives a life?
From Chapter 3 of The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren

What drives a life? Warren says everyone's life is driven by something: guilt, resentment and anger, materialism, the need for approval. I would imagine all of us have some mix of these needs and fears, for no one gets through life unscathed.

I spent most of my life searching for some intangible thing that would just make everything all right. As a child, seeking what would make my mother less angry. What would make me more acceptable, though I had a sinking feeling I was not really acceptable. A defensiveness that still causes me trouble.

I drifted into adulthood not knowing what I was seeking. Money and the material things didn't drive me. I desired the closeness of a loving relationship, with no idea of how to find it and the lurking feeling that I never would. I really had no purpose, just a restless seeking.

These needs and desires will probably always have some influence on me. But the Holy Spirit has been pulling things out very gently and showing them to me. It will soon be time to go for more sessions of prayer for inner healing about the things He is revealing. He is gifting me with more and more healing.

The house is quiet tonight. There's no television or radio noise, just the sound of rainfall on the house. The animals are curled up in slumber. I am aware of His presence, as subtle and enveloping as the soft light coming from the lamp on my desk.

He tells me I already know part of my purpose: to worship Him and to be a part of His ministry of healing. The other part is to be a voice. To speak about what is right -- to be a voice of conscience; to speak of Him and His Word. And He keeps talking to me about a calling. I have no idea if anything will ever come of that, though He specializes in the unlikely.

As I've mentioned, I stumble and fall a lot. I fall short of the mark. God picks me up, dusts me off and puts me back on the path. Sometimes he carries me in His arms, close to his heart, when He knows I need it.

God won't waste any of who I am or my past. He will redeem it all, and me in the process. I know my purpose in life: to listen, to seek His revelation, to be obedient to His plan and purpose.

No Accident

Chapter 2 of Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life is entitled "You Are Not an Accident." It reinforces the idea of God having a plan for each one of us -- He planned our existence, even the exact hour and time of birth.

"God prescribed every single detail of your body. He deliberately chose your race, the color of your skin, your hair... the natural ltalents you would possess...God left no detail to chance...Nothing in your life is arbitrary."

To understand the profoundness of God's tender love and concern for me, that He watched over me lovingly as He formed me and that He has plans for me, to give me hope and a future -- all these things moved me incredibly as I came to know Him. They still do. I am written in His book; my name is inscribed on the palm of His hand. I look at my hand and see, "The Lord's."

Warren's view seems more Calvinistic than mine. He doesn't touch on (at least in this chapter) the idea of free will. I believe God did not create us as puppets, but as living, breathing, emotional creatures who have the choice to love Him and seek his will, or not. A puppet cannot love. We can only love when we can choose, and God, who loved us first and knows us so intimately that He numbers the hairs on our heads, wants our love.

Evil happens in this world. Bad things happen to people through no fault of their own. People die before their appointed time. I don't believe God "plans" this for us. It is a consequence of living in this world. God did not promise that bad things won't happen. God promised to be there with us through all of it. He comforts those who mourn, sustains those who are suffering and works to bring good out of evil.

This said, I agree with Warren's basic tenant that God made each of us for a reason and our lives have profound meaning. We must make God the reference point of our lives to discover that purpose.

Though I'm sure Warren wasn't thinking of this when he emphasized that God selected our date and place of birth, our hair and eye color, our natural talents and our uniqueness of personality, I couldn't help applying it to the controversy in the church regarding homosexuality. Each person's sexuality is something chosen for him or her, not chosen by that person, and not a mistake. I think through the implications of this and see no reason to say that God did not call Gene Robinson to be a bishop.

Jesus was stern on the subject of sin, but he didn't hesitate to upset peoples' applecarts over what is sinful. It was the subject of a good many of his discourses with the Pharisees.

Jesus told us the way to the Kingdom is to love God with all our hearts, minds and souls; to love our neighbors as ourselves. God knows we cannot accomplish this on our own, so Jesus came to bring us forgiveness and to reconcile us to God, to show us the way to Him, to help us understand that each of us is the work of His hand and the apple of His eye, even His beloved, as the bride is loved and desired by the eager bridegroom.

He created me for Him. There is nothing about me He doesn't know, yet He still loves me unreservedly. He has a plan and a purpose for me. This is Good News, indeed.

[Note: if you wish to insert "Her" or "Creator" where I've used "He," please do so. They're all valid. I'll discuss this in a future posting.]

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Reflections on The Purpose Driven Life
and Confession of a "Liberal"

I started a Lenten-season series of classes at my new parish today. The series is based on the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

I'll get my carping out of the way first. We saw a televised introduction to the program, which will consist of reading a chapter a day for the next 40 days and meeting in small groups for discussion as we seek God's plan and purpose for our lives. A video sequence showed scores of baptisms being performed by different ministers. Not one of these ministers was a woman. In fact, you scarcely saw a woman in the whole video who wasn't an attractive, California soccer-mom, Ms. Junior Jaycee-type. This bugged me a bit.

Minor carping about the messenger out of the way, the message seems to be a very good one. I read the book's first chapter this afternoon. Warren talks about our expectations and wants vs. God's plan and purpose for us. He makes a good point that the self-help books out there, even Christian ones, focus on what we want, what our goals are, how we will accomplish them, using our determination. Hudda, hudda, hudda.

Warren says, "But being successful and fulfilling your life's purpose are not at all the same issue."

To find our purpose in life, we must focus on God, for whom and by whom we were made, and listen to what he is telling us. To understand the purpose of an invention, ask the inventor, Warren says. "God was thinking of you long before you ever thought about him. His purpose for your life predates your conception. He planned it before you existed, without your input!"

This is a reference to my favorite Psalm, Number 139. Here are verses 12-15 and 22-23:

For you yourself created me in my inmost parts;
you knit me together in my mother's womb;

I will thank you because I am marvelously made;
your works are wonderful, and I know it well.

My body was not hidden from you
while I was being made in secret
and woven in the depths of the earth.

Your eyes beheld my limbs, yet unfinished in the womb;
all of them were written in your book;
they were fashioned day by day,
when as yet there was none of them.

Search me out, O God, and know my heart;
try me and know my restless thoughts.

Look well whether there be any wickedness in me
and lead me in the way that is everlasting.

God, who lovingly knit me together in my mother's womb, has a much better plan for me than I could ever imagine. He will help me see that plan if I ask him.

Maybe it takes a literal interpretation of the Bible to believe this. In many ways I am very much a traditionalist, a literalist reader of the Bible. I believe this is God speaking to us through the psalmist. I believe that He did actually look upon my forming body, the one in which He instilled His divine spark, and love me as I was in the womb. I believe that He knew me before the world began; that He had a plan for me even then. Not the easy way, but His way.

I screw it up a lot. He picks me up, dusts me off, and put me back on the path. This is sometimes called "grace."

Yes, I can be a flaming literalist. I was surprised, in fact, to read that there seems to be something of a controversy on the topic of the transfiguration. Well, I take it quite literally. God was there. The manifestation of God has effects on the physical world around that presence (sci-fi fans might like the wording, "a disruption in the space-time continuum"). The shining whiteness of the faces exposed to the effects of that manifestation is a physiological response to sudden changes in temperature, humidity levels, air pressure and only God knows what. Literalist, yes!

Anyway. I believe that God has a purpose for my life, and for yours. As I go through the next 40 days, I plan to journal something each day, if only a short paragraph, about my reading, reflection and group discussions.

Friday, February 20, 2004

The hired hand

Earlier in the week, I read Gospel Guy's blog with the Gospel of John 10:1-8 on the true shepherd versus the thief and bandit and the hired man. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves and protects his sheep.

"I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and the sheep do not belong to him, abandons the sheep as soon as he sees a wolf coming, and runs away, and then the wolf attacks and scatters the sheep; he runs away because he is only a hired man and has no concern for the sheep."

I posted this comment:

"The imagery of the shepherd is the most beautiful in the Bible and the most beautiful metaphor in all literature, I think. The shepherd who guides, protects -- literally lays himself down at the sheep gate to protect his flock from nighttime predators; who clears the rocks to provide a green meadow for them; who cleanses the infections and parasites from his sheep, literally anointing their heads with oil; who speaks and sings to them so they recognize his voice out of all the other ones and follow him to safety; who does not leave even the least one behind, but carries him close to his heart.
I love my Shepherd."

Two conflicting images: the hired hand, who has no personal concern for the flock, versus the loving shepherd. The role of the bishop is modeled on the role of the good shepherd.

The good shepherd does not hand his flock over to others, bartering them for political advantage.

"...we do hereby affirm the moral and spiritual authority of you, the "Concerned Primates" of the Anglican Communion, and do join in commitment with
you to address the situation under your leadership. We desire to act in concert with you, and are ready to take counsel from you. We pledge solidarity with you in
sharing common faith and practice within an Anglicanism that is submitted to her sovereign Lord.."

This is from the AAC-bishops' letter to the "Concerned Primates,"
(which means these primates agree with them on the issue of homosexuality but carry a lot of other baggage -- see my objections to them in Wednesday's Feb. 18 blog entry). These AAC-bishops would be ready to hand their dioceses to these primates' authority for their own political advantage. I feel like nothing more than a pawn in such hands.

Are these bishops acting as good shepherds or as hired hands?

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Rejoicing over me with singing

On that day they will say to Jerusalem,
"Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands hang limp.
The LORD your God is with you,
he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you,
he will quiet you with his love,
he will rejoice over you with singing."
Zephaniah 3:16-17, NIV

God has been laying it on me lately how much He loves me, that I am His beloved child. That love surrounds me. It is my shield; it is the palm of His hand holding me and refusing to let me slip through His fingers, carrying me through difficulties. That love is working through me, bringing me healing and tearing down strongholds. It centers me in the universe. I hear God's voice singing over me.

In all the controversy and schismatic actions we're experiencing in the church, it is easy to forget to love. Especially when we're confronted with such unloving actions.

The Great Commandment is easy to talk about but not easy to practice. God has been laying it on me also to look at each person, especially the one who does or speaks ugly things, and see this: a beloved child of God. And if God loves him or her, how can I not? To refuse to give love is to refuse God's love.

To be angry about things people are saying or doing is natural with the divisive tensions we're experiencing in the church. It is our response of the flesh. But our response of the spirit must be to see a child of God and love that child and pray for that child. His or her response is not the issue. Acting in response to God's love is the issue.

That doesn't mean that we yield to what the spirit tells us is wrong. We continue our efforts and resist the works of the devil. The devil wins when we let hatefulness prompt us to hardness of heart. This is something to remember through the twists and turns of the current controversy, when there is a lot of hatefulness and just plain hate out there right now. Responding in kind is not what Christ calls us to do.

I know that in my much less-than-perfect human response, I will be angry at some of the actions I see and things I hear. Anger is even an appropriate response to injustice -- it leads us to work to correct it. I think Jesus was a bit angry when he overturned the tables at the temple! But I must immediately temper my angry response with prayer, asking God how I am to handle the situation, and not allow my heart to become hardened.

It isn't easy being a Christian. To whom much is given, much is asked. But how richly God rewards us.

God, hear my prayer of thanksgiving for Your love, which is perfect.

Saturday, February 14, 2004

Strange world

In the last posting I said the world seems a little bit strange these days. The succeeding days got a whole lot stranger. I got involved in a heated quarrel with my now ex-rector, Father Dearest, who took exception to a magazine article that I forwarded to five or six people I know, a few on the vestry and the others not. He accused me, rightly, I suppose, of trying to discredit the AAC Network. Then he made a false accusation against me.

I responded in defense of myself and said that besides, I have the right to share a magazine article without his permission. He responded with a no you don't, and more accusations. This went for a few rounds, with a number of people privy to it. There were people in Father Dearest's face in my defense.

I'm not proud of this, however. I just completed a course on reconciliation. I should have stopped immediately and said, "Let's sit down and talk." I didn't do it until my spiritual director prodded me to. I sent the father an e-mail saying we were both hurting over this and can we meet and talk about it. He responded with one in kind.

We met, talked, agreed to meet again the next day before I made a final decision to leave. We prayed together and asked forgiveness of hurts and professed Christ's love for each other. I went through with my resignation, on satisfactory parting terms, I think.

I have forgiven him and I pray that he has forgiven me for hurts toward each other.

The strangest part is trying to understand the heart and mind of another person. I really just don't understand. I really do love this man who taught me so much of the Gospel message. I don't understand how or why he can say and do some of things he does. It takes the multi-dimensionality of God to see into our hearts, minds and souls.

This is why I must remove myself as judge; this is why only God can judge him. I can know or at least feel certain things about him, but I don't know that hidden interior that God knows intimately, that store of hurts and griefs and abandonments and whatever that influence another person's actions. No one even understands their own most of the time.

My job here is to forgive so that my judgments and anger are not a barrier between me and God. As a Christian, it is my job to reach out to whatever reconciliation I can, to love with Christ's love and see with Christ's eyes.

It isn't easy for me to let go and hand it over to God. It is much easier, more natural to react in judgment and seek vindication. But that is not what Christ requires, and I count myself a follower of Christ, so I am praying for Him to help me become more like Him.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Living in an off-kilter world
balancing by faith

The world seems a little bit strange these days. I've started the process of getting my membership transferred to a new parish, and I feel betwixt and between. I'm not formally a part of the new parish yet; I'm unknown to most of the parishioners there, and I haven't been to my old parish for a couple of weeks -- the only church I've ever joined.

You see, I came to Christ (for want of a better term, which I can't think of at the moment) late in life, and came to this parish as part of that call. It's the only one I've ever known and it's been home to me, sometimes my only safe haven. I still love that parish.

Now it's like I'm going off to college or moving out on my own. It's voluntary, I need the change, but it's unsettling.

Of course, the Big Guy saw this coming, and that's why he got me involved at this new parish a couple of years ago. I joined their healing ministry, took advantage of some inner healing/intensive prayer ministry myself, and found my spiritual director there. I really need her inspired direction. I wouldn't act half-way like a Christian without her keeping me on track.

I think God has prepared a place for me.

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

A plea for help

I just sent a letter to Presiding Bishop Frank Griswold through the Episcopal Church of the USA Web site. I don't know if it will get through the electronic hoops, so I am publishing it here as an open letter:


Dearest Reverend,

As a faithful Episcopalian in the Diocese of Central Florida, I am distressed by the actions of our diocesan convention. I cannot be part of the AAC network to which the diocese has subscribed.

There are many others in my parish and diocese who feel the same way I do. We are looking to the national church for help and guidance.

I do not want to leave the Episcopal Church, but I'm being forced out of it by my diocese and my rector, who are intent on the AAC program.

I need to know about alternatives -- alternatives other than leaving the denomination. Is there a way for us to obtain alternative episcopal oversight from the Episcopal Church USA, either individually or as part of a group?

Please advise what we should do.

Let me add my admiration of your poise and your example of Christ in the face of personal attack by those who disagree with you. You set an example for us all.

Yours in Christ,

Monday, February 02, 2004

Ask not for whom the phone rings

The hiatus in telephone solicitation was short lived. I'm just one of the luckiest people on the face of the earth -- I somehow manage to win two or three cruises a week! That was one of the calls I've had the past few days. The other was from the company that sells fancy beds to you in your home (I won't name them).

The volume is comparatively sparse, but it's still annoying. And the bed people called Sunday afternoon when I was home from church but sleepy and I almost picked it up without checking caller ID.

Each call is an invasion of privacy and that's what I resent. Even not answering the phone, I'm still bothered by it. They're reaching into my home without my consent.

There oughta be a law.

Sunday, February 01, 2004

Just passin' through

At the end of January last year I wrote some song lyrics that are in keeping with the malaise that stops for me this time of year (see "February is the coldest month" from from the posting of Jan. 29).

It's acknowledgement of melancholy, along with the determination not to give in to it. I wrote it just before the shuttle disaster. I wrote it the same day one of my brothers was being diagnosed with lymphoma, though I didn't know he was even having a health problem until the next day.

This year, the soldiers serving and dying in Iraq are on my mind. I know so many families being affected by this war. And yesterday, I attended the funeral of my friend's mother.

Pilgrim in a Land of Shadow
Tune: Traditional Folk Hymn ("The Wayfarin' Stranger")
Lyrics: Unsaintly Pat

I'm pilgrimmin' through this land of shadow,
A-passin' through this vale of pain.
But I won't drink from the well of sorrow--
I'll give nothing to the devil's gain.

(chorus -- repeats after each verse)
For my dear Savior's come to claim me,
He'll take me to the promised land.
I know He'll never harm or shame me--
He holds me fast in His right hand.

Nothin' on earth can keep Him from me,
No, neither death nor devil's lies.
These earthly chains shall all drop from me
When He lifts me through the clouds and skies.

All those I love are sheltered by Him,
He keeps them safe--tucked under His wing.
Into His care I do commend them
So I need not fear for anything.