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Tag Archive | "Ronnie McBrayer"

Stay connected to the Source 


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

Debbie Savely lost her Bible in 1974, a Bible given to her by her late father. Yet, last year, that Bible made its way back into her possession. It was found in a box of debris on the campus of Volunteer State Community College, and by way of relentless pursuit and the marvel of the Internet, it was returned to its owner 40 years after it was lost.

I doubt that Debbie needed it. Like all of us, she had access to millions of Bibles to read. What made this particular copy of the Bible special was its source; her father had given it to her. Thus, it was a link to one who loved her.

What if we learned to approach our own Bibles with the same sentiment? What if we stopped deifying the Bible (worshipping “God the Father, Son, and Holy Bible” as it were), and embraced it as a pointer aiming us in a more Jesus-like direction?

How do we do this? By being Christians, not Biblicists. A Biblicist is one who reads the Bible flat; that is, every word is given the same significance, so, “He that curseth his father shall surely be put to death,” is given the same credibility as, “Love thy neighbor as thyself” (a drastic but accurate example).

Christians might be better served if our interpretive lens was Jesus Christ. As the living Word and Source, we look to him as we read, using his words to hold ourselves to his way, and to hold the Bible accountable as well. Refusing to do this schizophrenically puts the Bible and Jesus at odds with each other.

Maybe this is what Kurt Eichenwald was trying to get at in his recent Newsweek diatribe, “The Bible: So Misunderstood It’s a Sin.” He railed against biblical abuses, ignorance that impedes science, the foolishness of uniting church with state, and the suffering inflicted on the world by those who misapply the Bible. My response was, “Amen!”

But nothing will change about this state of affairs until Bible-reading, Bible-loving, Bible-believing people stop treating the Bible like it is God. Yes, I love the Bible, but not because every passage can be reconciled with Christianity. I love it because it helps me stay connected to the Source, to Jesus. After all, he is the foundation of my faith, and even as the Good Book says, there is no other.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at ronniemcbrayer.net.

 

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Will Practice Make Perfect?


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

In the coming week, the nation will gather at Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania for a uniquely American observance. The event is Groundhog Day, of course, as with bated breath we watch Punxsutawney Phil materialize from his cozy burrow.

Groundhog Day makes me think, not of plump rodents, but Bill Murray. It was more than 20 years ago that he starred in the now classic comedy film, “Groundhog Day.” He plays weatherman Phil Connors, given the assignment of covering the Gobbler’s Knob festivities. Somehow he gets caught in a time warp and must relive Groundhog Day over and over again in an agonizing time loop.

Internet nerds have watched this movie thousands of times, and painfully parsing all the events and dialogue have calculated that weatherman Phil Connors stays trapped on Groundhog Day for almost 40 years. Why? The point seems to be personal transformation. Connors must remain where he is until he is a changed man. There is no going forward until that work is done.

Forty years seems to be the magic number, for that is exactly the amount of time spent by the children of Israel in the wilderness. You may know the story: Moses is commissioned by God to save his people from Pharaoh’s slavery. Plagues commence. Miracles ensue. Deliverance arrives (this would make a great movie).

But the former slaves don’t know how to live as a free people. They complain, revolt, commit mutiny, and foolishly long for the false security of their chains over the constant vigilance of their freedom. They are trapped and remain as such, for forty years until the “stiff-necked,” stubborn, generation had been replaced by those ready to be free.

If we review the trajectory of our lives, we are likely to find a few common denominators in all we have experienced. That’s because there’s probably a few major lessons that God is trying to teach us, a couple of persistent chains he is attempting to break. God allows life to repeat itself, over and over, until we do the hard, inner work of the soul.

Wandering the desert is a necessity and repeating difficult lessons is required, as some things can only be learned in the hard places. But how long we replay and relive those lessons is more or less up to us. There comes a time to “get it,” and to get on with it.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Extremist for Love


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

When it comes to the late Martin Luther King, Jr., it’s almost impossible to supplant the importance of his 1963 defense of his nonviolent strategies, a document entitled, “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” MLK used his jail cell to take his detractors to task, specifically a group of Alabama ministers, who had taken umbrage with his tactics.

Those ministers crafted a document entitled, “A Call for Unity,” imploring King to cease his “extreme measures” of boycotts and demonstrations. After it was printed in the local newspaper, King drafted “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” as his spirited response.

In it he fiercely attacked the false peace that they paternalistically peddled. What was required for lasting peace and justice was to first “bring to the surface the hidden tension…bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with.” It was King’s goal, always through nonviolent means, to foster this social crisis of inequality until it could no longer be ignored. Then, and only then, was systematic change possible.

Was this approach, “extreme?” Absolutely, as King wrote: “Was not Jesus an extremist for love…Was not Amos an extremist for justice…So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love?

“In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified…All three were crucified for the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth, and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. The nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.”

When I read those words I can’t help but be captured by King as a spiritual guide, a mentor, a prophet whose words, passion, and creative extremism can point us to a better future. And I say this as a man who was born years after his death; a man with no claim on MLK’s legacy; a man with a Deep South lineage where my grandfather still spoke of “The War of Northern Aggression.”

At last, I have to agree with Tavis Smiley who says, “King is the greatest single individual this country has ever produced.” May he continue to produce fruit in us all—black, white, Latino, or Asian—because we need extremists more than ever, extremists in love.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Peace begins at home


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

 

 

In December of 2001, the Jews of Afghanistan celebrated their first Hanukah free of the Taliban in almost a decade. It was a small celebration, for there were only two Jews left in the entire country; and each one celebrated alone.

At separate ends of a rundown synagogue in Kabul, Ishak Levin and Zebulon Simantov lit their candles and said their prayers. Both had survived Soviet occupation, Taliban atrocities, and the American-led invasion. Both prayed for the same things to the same God, and yet they could not share the same space.

Neither of the men could accurately remember what started their feud, but it had deepened and endured. Levin said, “For thousands of years our forefathers have celebrated these nights, and now Jews all over the world are celebrating.” And then speaking of his antagonist he said, “But with him, it’s not possible.”

A decade later Levin was dead, leaving Simantov alone. He is the only known Jew left in the country, living in a single room, alienated from his neighbors, estranged from his wife and daughters, cursing former friends, and demanding money or whiskey from reporters who come to interview him. He is a bitter, old man.

Zebulon Simantov may be alone in his dilapidated Kabul synagogue, but he is not alone in his animosities, even as the celebrations of Hanukah and Christmas are upon us. Untold thousands are at war with those around them, be it the army across the border, or their neighbors across the street. These holidays of shalom and peace aren’t enough to break this hold of ill will.

Yet, it will not always be this way. I believe the day will come when such hostilities will be put to rest, when the world will be at peace. Now, “you might say that I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one,” for this is the assurance of the Jewish prophets, the very hope of Advent, and the promise of all perennial faith traditions: There will be “peace on earth and goodwill toward all.”

Yet, I cannot simply wait for that promised peace to magically arrive. No, I have to practice peace, not allowing this world’s massive levels of toxicity to embitter or isolate me from others. I have to become “an instrument of peace,” as Francis of Assisi prayed, learning to overcome evil with good, beginning, at the place I call home.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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The Gift of Mercy


 

by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

I once read about Charles Brown, a World War 2 pilot on his first mission, just before Christmas, 1943. His B-17 had been shot to pieces; half his crew was wounded or dead, and he was flying alone over Germany. Then, Brown looked to his left and locked eyes with Franz Stigler, an ace German fighter pilot flying no more than a few feet off the B-17’s wing. This was the end.

Stigler saw that his enemy’s aircraft was torn to pieces, and with one hand on the trigger and another on his rosary, he couldn’t shoot. Instead, he nodded at Brown and protectively escorted the bomber to the edge of Allied airspace, saluted Brown, and peeled away.

Brown landed safely and eventually returned home. As he aged, the more he thought about that December day. He decided that he must find that German pilot. His search was showing little progress when he received an unexpected letter from Franz Stigler! The two pilots became best of friends.

Brown was forever grateful for Stigler’s gift of mercy – his whole life had been possible because of it. But the event changed Stigler’s life as well. He said, “The war cost me everything. Charles Brown was the only good thing that came out of [it]. It was the one thing I could be proud of.”

Stigler and Brown died within months of each other in 2008. A book found in Charles Brown’s library after their deaths, a gift from Stigler, had this written on the flap: “On the 20th of December, 1943, four days before Christmas, I had the chance to save a B-17 from her destruction…The pilot, Charles Brown, is for me, as precious as my brother.”

Few stories illustrate so well how transformational mercy can be, for it is a shared gift. When we replace vengeance with compassion; retaliation with grace; and punishment with forgiveness, then, like no other moment, we are giving life to the world.

So who in your life could best be served by the gift of mercy? That old enemy? A shystering, former business partner? A parent, child, neighbor, or sibling? There’s no shortage of offenders, just a shortage of forgiveness. Maybe it’s time to ask God for the grace to grace others, to cling to your rosary, and take your finger off the trigger. The person you save might be yourself.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Hope is a dangerous thing


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

“Let me tell you something, my friend. Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane.” So said Red Redding to Andy Dufresne in that masterpiece, “The Shawshank Redemption.” Morgan Freeman (as Red) and Tim Robbins (as Andy) have never been better.

For the uninitiated, “Shawshank” is about prison life. It is a story about guilt, innocence, friendship, love, struggle and injustice. It is a story about hope, and how hope can keep a man alive, even though Red had given up on hope long ago. Hope is a cruel joke, in his estimation, that convinced gullible people to long for something that was impossible to attain.

Old Red’s view is largely consistence with the ancient philosophers who used hope as a synonym for dashed expectations. It was nothing but starry-eyed, false anticipation. Modern philosophy hasn’t changed this view, as Red could have easily been channeling Nietzsche who thought of hope as the malevolent instrument that simply prolonged human suffering.

Still, Andy Defresne told Red that hope was “the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” In fact, that is hope’s exact definition. It is what never dies. More than human longing, more than personal aspiration, more than some head-in-the-cloud dream, it is the stuff of endurance.

Look at those who have survived the worst atrocities; the survivors always have some intangible power to bend, but not break, under the pressure. These individuals endured, persevered, and suffered the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” while taking “arms against their sea of troubles.” But when the battle had ended, they were found intact; hurt, but alive; battered, but not defeated. They had resiliency, a synonym for hope.

Vaclav Havel, the Czech playwright who became the first president of the Czech people after the fall of the Soviet Union, defined hope as well as Andy Dufresne. He said, “Hope is not optimism. It is the certainty that life has meaning, regardless of how it turns out…I am not an optimist, because I’m not sure everything will end well. I just carry hope in my heart.”

Yes, “hope is a dangerous thing,” but not because it can make people crazy. It is dangerous to the status quo; it gives people the tenacity to “keep on keeping on.” It gives people the power to change their world. And right now, in this world, that would be “the best of things.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Count your blessings


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

In the churches of my youth we sang an old hymn entitled, “Count Blessings” at every Thanksgiving service. I can still recite the first stanza from memory: “When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed; when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost; count your many blessings, name them one by one; and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

A Sunday School teacher once challenged my Primary Bible Class to do exactly as the song implored: “Count your blessings.” She handed out sheets of wide ruled notebook paper accompanied by fat, yellow, #2 Ticonderoga pencils. A dozen eight-year-olds went to work listing all of our heaven-sent assets.

Have you counted your blessings lately, naming them “one by one?” I know all the big things would be on the list: family, nation, shelter, food, children or grandchildren. But to list all of our blessings, even the little things, would take a considerable amount of time, longer than a brief Sunday School lesson would allow. Still, it’s worth the time to make such a list. Maybe you could start with A and work through the alphabet to Z, concentrating on the little, often assumed, godsends.

I’ll get you started: Air conditioning. Band aids. Coffee. Distilleries (particularly those in Canada). Electricity. Football. Garrison Keillor. Hamburgers. Ireland. Jackson Hole. Krispy Kreme. Live Oak trees. Music. Newspapers. Online banking. Picnics. Quinoa. Refrigeration. Smoked Almonds. Tennis. Urinals (the ones that flush automatically). Vacations. Willie Nelson. X-Rays. Yogurt. Zyrtec.

And that’s just the first list that rolled from my mind, a stream of consciousness! This list could be reproduced a thousand times over with little thought, just observation, because blessings constantly rain down upon me. God’s ever-present grace surrounds me, if only because I am fortunate enough to live at a time and in a place like this.

It’s not that complicated. Take the time to look around your life and count your blessings—one by little one—if you dare. Give thanks to God for what you have, what you have experienced, for the grace you have received, and for the people you have known.

Try to remember that Thanksgiving is more than a holiday, more than a day off, more than a circled date on a calendar. It is a way of life. Remembering this might change your perspective about things. It might change your attitude. It just might change your life.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Truly satisfied


by Ronnie McBrayer

by Ronnie McBrayer

An old Quaker farmer placed a sign on his land that read, “This farm will be given to anyone who is truly satisfied.” A wealthy merchant came riding along and saw the sign. He thought to himself, “If this man is so eager to part with his land, I might as well claim it, for I have all I need.” He walked to the front porch and explained to the farmer why he was there.

“Art thou truly satisfied?” the Quaker asked. The merchant responded, “I am. I have everything I need.” The old farmer answered, “My friend, if thou art truly satisfied, then why doth thou need my land?”

It is human nature to want, search, and covet even after we have everything we need. There is this insatiable desire within us that we can’t seem to satisfy, a hunger we cannot fill. But how does satisfy the hunger of the heart that so often drags us to our undoing?

There’s no easy answer. Whole religions have been built around answering that question; and everything from self-flagellation and asceticism to quiet meditation and psychotropic drugs have been tried to free humanity from itself. Yet, the heinous rate of consumption, the constant grabbing and clutching for more, continues with happiness levels as flat as ever.

But maybe the presence of desire isn’t the real problem. It’s not that “we want,” but that we want the wrong things. What is the object of those desires; what is it that we are after that we think will make us happy? Those might be the better questions.

See, we have been duped. We think that acquisition will satisfy us. We have been fooled into thinking that a shinier car, a bigger house, a younger wife, a better neighborhood, or the newest piece of technology will make us happy. But it’s an evaporating illusion. When you are chasing after what will never ultimately please you, getting more of it, won’t get it done.

I think that’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things will be added to you.” He was saying, “You’re going to desire, you’re going to want; just point those cravings in the right direction. Go for what counts!” Then you discover that living a satisfying life requires very little. You will discover that the hungry life can be replaced by the happy life.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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Young and dumb


Keeping-the-Faith-RonnieMcBrayerBy Ronnie McBrayer

 

My adolescent son told me the other day that “teenagers should rule the world.” After I stopped guffawing at him, I remembered that scientists have proven that the adolescent brain is incapable of logical decision-making. Not enough physiological development has taken place, and it is impossible for a teenager to always behave or react rationally.

But I don’t think today’s teens could do much worse than today’s adults. We seem as immature as our children. Maybe science has figured out why. Researchers say that no living person, in reality, is very old; because the cellular matter in our bodies is constantly regenerating. The cells in our bodies, no matter one’s birth date, average about 15 years of age…so…we are all teenagers!

Yet, the relative youth of our bodies is no excuse for immaturity. We may not be born with the capacity to make healthy, rational decisions, but that is a virtue that can be acquired. Science, once again, has confirmed this fact as well.

In 2009, professors Dilip Jeste and Thomas Meeks published a major paper on their research into human wisdom. Among their discoveries was the fact that those who are genuinely wise have the benefit of age and experience on their side and, more often than not, bad experiences.

You have to fall on your face a few times, get caught in a self-manufactured disaster or two, and then wisdom mercifully begins to take root. Thus, the older you are, the smarter you should be, and the younger you are, the dumber you are. That too, is a scientific fact. Yes, we need what youth offers: Audacity, vision, zeal, and a healthy dose of revolutionary chaos on occasion. But like a fine wine, only time produces wisdom.

So it should be no surprise that our world is in its current condition. It is a world that values youth, childishness, and this month’s fresh face from L.A. more than it values the sense and wisdom that comes from age. It is a culture that sacrifices on the altar of youthful stupidity the wizened experience of its elders.

It does so at its own tragic expense, for a society that will not listen to the voice of history is a society that is doomed. There’s a proverb that goes, “Old age and cunning will always beat youth and exuberance.” For the sake of the world, I hope that’s true.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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The Trick to the Treats


By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

That faint noise you hear is the sound of pint-sized spooks gathering on your lawn. They will soon be knocking at the door, plastic pumpkins outstretched. Spare yourself the tricks and give up the treats – the unhealthy, sweet, nougat-filled goodies in your cupboard. Keep your stinking apples, raisins, toothbrushes, and granola bars. In a few short years the tykes will have to turn in their costumes, so don’t deprive them of this rite of childhood passage.

This doesn’t mean adults don’t get in on the fun. Americans spend nearly $3 billion each Halloween, not on adorning their children for the festivities, but on themselves. Adults love to play dress-up, it would appear, and not just in October.

We all hide behind masks, masks we have worn for so long, we forget the real person who lurks beneath. We so over-identify with our dress-up characters, that is the roles we play in life, that when the roles change—and they will change—we experience miserable frustration.

One Halloween my son dressed as the cartoon spaceman Buzz Lightyear for Halloween. It was fun—“To infinity and beyond!”—and that’s how long I thought the boy would wear the costume. In his mind, this wasn’t a temporary role he was playing. Buzz Lightyear was who he really was. Every time he had to lay aside his costume, it was the proverbial end of the world with weeping and gnashing of teeth. It was as if he was losing himself, as if he couldn’t live apart from that imaginary facade. Of course the real him was beneath that rayon spacesuit—everybody knew it—except him.

This is a common affliction. We build dramatic images of ourselves, who we think we are, who we should be, what we should accomplish, and once constructed, these have to be maintained and protected. We never let a tear or a crack show in our veneer, and the mask to which we cling slowly becomes a prison. We go through life kicking and screaming every time a perceived threat begins to pull at the hem of our make-believe cape.

Here’s a better way: Fulfill the roles that God, fate, or life has assigned to you. Fulfill them with gusto. But never accept the masks you must wear as a substitute for the person you really are; that’s the trick to a sweet life.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.me.

 

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