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July 1 — Harriet Beecher Stowe

Harriet Beecher StoweToday’s Bible Reading

No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace. — Hebrews 12:22-4 (Message)

More thoughts for meditation about Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)

When President Lincoln met Harriet Beecher Stowe in 1863, he is reported to have said, “So you’re the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!”

Uncle Tom’s Cabin may not have caused the Civil War, but it shook both North and South. It declared the profound value of a human soul and pictured emancipation as inevitable. Susan Bradford Eppes wrote, after her state of Florida seceded, “If Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe had died before she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, this would never have happened … Isn’t it strange how much harm a pack of lies can do?”

Harriet was the seventh of 12 children of Lyman Beecher, Congregationalist minister, noted revivalist and reformer. When Harriet’s mother lay dying, Lyman repeatedly spoke words to her that the family embraced as their life text, often repeating it to one another: “… Ye are come unto Mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn, … and to the spirits of just men made perfect, and to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaketh better things than that of Abel.” The essence of words energized the unanswerable argument in Uncle Tom’s Cabin: if a slave can come to Mount Sion and to Jesus and to the company of saints in the New Jerusalem, how can you set him up on an auction block and trade him from one white man to another?

In 1832 her father moved the family to the frontier city of Cincinnati, where he became president of Lane Seminary, soon a center for abolitionists. At 25 Harriet married Calvin Ellis Stowe, professor of Biblical literature at Lane.

Harriet was often morbid while growing up as she struggled with issues of faith. But when she was fourteen, she cried to her father that she had given herself to Christ. Later in her marriage to Calvin Stowe, she would plead with him to seek Christ with the same burning devotion with which he sought knowledge. “If you had studied Christ with half the energy that you have studied Luther … then would he be formed in you … ” When he turned to spiritualism, she pleaded with him, the Biblical scholar, that it was unbiblical.

During her child-rearing years, she read to her seven children two hours each evening and, for a time, ran a small school in her home. She described herself as “a little bit of a woman, just as thin and dry as a pinch of snuff; never very much to look at in my best days and very much used-up by now, a mere drudge with few ideas beyond babies and housekeeping.”

But she was not a mere drudge. She found time to write, partially to bolster the meager family income. An early literary success at age 32 (for a collection of short stories) encouraged her, but she still worried about the conflict between writing and mothering. Despite privation and anxiety, due largely to her husband’s precarious health, she wrote continually and in 1843 published The Mayflower; or, Sketches of Scenes and Characters Among the Descendants of the Pilgrims. Her husband urged her on, predicting she could mold “the mind of the West for the coming generation.” That she did with the publication of Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Life Among the Lowly at 40.

She had lived for 18 years in Cincinnati, separated only by the Ohio River from a slave-holding community in Kentucky. She gained firsthand knowledge of fugitive slaves and about life in the South from friends and through her contact with the “Underground Railroad” there. The secret network was started in defiance of the Fugitive Slave Act (severe measures that mandated the return of runaway slaves without trial) to help escaped slaves reach safety in the North or in Canada. Stowe herself helped some slaves escape.

But Stowe still brooded over how she could further respond. Then, during a church communion service, the scene of the triumphant death of Tom flashed before her. She soon formed the story that preceded Tom’s death.

In 1850 her husband became professor at Bowdoin College and moved his family to Brunswick, Maine. In Brunswick, Stowe wrote the story of Uncle Tom’s Cabin for serial publication in the National Era, an antislavery paper of Washington, D.C., in 1851 and 1852 in 40 installments, each with a cliffhanger ending. Her name became anathema in the South. But elsewhere the book had an unparalleled popularity; it was translated into at least 23 languages. When it appeared in book form, it sold 1,000,000 copies before the Civil War. The dramatic adaptation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin played to capacity audiences. Stowe reinforced her story with The Key to Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1853), in which she accumulated a large number of documents and testimonies against slavery.

Its publication also inspired a reaction from the South: critical reviews and the publication of some 30 anti-abolitionist Uncle Tom novels within three years.

By literary standards, the novel’s situations are contrived, the dialogue unreal, and the slaves romanticized. Still, Stowe communicated the absurdity of slavery through Tom’s triumph over the brutal evil of Simon Legree.

“‘How would ye like to be tied to a tree, and have a slow fire lit up around ye?’ asked Legree. ‘Wouldn’t that be pleasant, eh, Tom?’

“‘Mas’r,’ said Tom, ‘I know ye can do dreadful things, but’—he stretched himself upward and clasped his hands—’but after ye’ve killed the body, there ain’t no more ye can do. And oh! there’s all eternity to come after that!'”

Until her death in July 1896, Stowe averaged nearly a book a year, but Uncle Tom’s Cabin was her legacy. Even one of her harshest critics acknowledged that it was “perhaps the most influential novel ever published, a verbal earthquake, an ink-and-paper tidal wave.”

She thereafter led the life of a woman of letters, writing novels, of which The Minister’s Wooing (1859) is best known, and many studies of social life in both fiction and essay. Stowe published also a small volume of religious poems and toward the end of her career gave some public readings from her writings.

Harriet Beecher Stowe quotes:

  • Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.
  • The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.
  • Women are the real architects of society.
  • Most mothers are instinctive philosophers.
  • It’s a matter of taking the side of the weak against the strong, something the best people have always done.
  • Human nature is above all things lazy.
  • The truth is the kindest thing we can give folks in the end.

Suggestions for action

Stowe came from a skilled and disciplined family, but even then she was still a woman trapped in the day-to-day of a patriarchal society. Her life suggests that conviction counts, if it is followed up by deeds.

What is God moving you to do? What should you be sticking with until it is done?

June 29 – Peter and Paul

El Greco — 1587-1592. In the Hermitage in St. Petersburg (once appeared on a USSR stamp).

Today’s Bible reading

There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection.  Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.  They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins,destitute, persecuted and mistreated— the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.

These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. — Hebrews 11:35-40

More thoughts for meditation about Peter and Paul

The feast of these two great spiritual ancestors is celebrated on the same day, June 29th. Tradition holds that Peter and Paul were martyred in June of the year 67 A.D. (in some traditions, on the very same day), while living and ministering in Rome during the reign of the infamously brutal Emperor Nero.

This day became an important feast on the Christian calendar to solemnize the memory of their martyrdom. It was highlighted in the 4th century when Christianity became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire. According to tradition, Romulus and Remus were the hero-twin founders of pre-Christian Rome. The rise of Christianity in the 4th century inserted Peter and Paul in their place.

The two great leaders of the first church do not appear to have had a consistently harmonious relationship (like most of us!). On the one hand, there was a confrontation between them at the Syrian city of Antioch over whether a community of both Christian Jews and Christian non-Jews (Gentiles) should all observe Jewish kosher food rules or not. Here is Paul’s report on the dispute:

Until certain people came from James, he [Peter] used to eat with the Gentiles. But after they came, he drew back and kept himself separate for fear of the circumcision faction. And the other Jews joined him in this hypocrisy, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. — Gal. 2:12-13 NRSV

This is strong language. Paul accuses Peter of being two-faced: abiding by Jewish dietary laws when pressed by his fellow Jews but freely ignoring them when in Gentile company.

On the other hand, Peter made mildly negative comments on Paul. They are not as harsh in terms of name-calling, but they criticize Paul’s letters in a sweeping manner:

So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures. — 2 Pet. 3:15-16 NRSV

Lamp from the Medici collection belonging to lamp originally given to Valerius Severus, a member of a powerful Roman family, in honor of his conversion to Christianity
Early 5th century ivory belt buckle discovered beneath the cathedral of Castellammare di Stabia, a city near Naples, Italy.

How did fourth-century Christians reconcile Peter and Paul to become the hero-twins of Christian Rome?

The two fourth or fifth-century artifacts above show how Peter versus Paul became Peter and Paul. The objects correlate with the efforts of Pope Damasus I, who sought to raise the profile of the Church (and the papacy) in fourth-century Rome.

The first item is a bronze hanging lamp in the shape of a ship under sail. It shows Paul standing in the prow piloting the ship, with Peter seated in the stern at the tiller. Together, they are guiding the church through the sea of life. Who is more important, the one piloting or the one steering?

The second is an ivory belt buckle. It shows Paul to the viewer’s left and Peter to the right rushing toward one another and into a full embrace. Peace, reconciliation, and apostolic harmony are fully established.

The New Testament does not record the deaths of Peter or Paul, or any of the Apostles except for James the son of Zebedee (Acts 12:2). But their martyrdom is clearly anticipated. From an early date it has been said that they were killed at Rome at the command of the Emperor Nero, and buried there. As a Roman citizen, Paul would probably have been beheaded with a sword. It is said of Peter that he was crucified head downward, upon his request. Their churches, St. Peter’s Basilica and St. Paul Outside the Walls, in Rome were built on the respective locations of their martyrdom and burial.

Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430) writes in Sermon 295:

Both apostles share the same feast day, for these two were one; And even though they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, and Paul followed. And so we celebrate this day made holy for us by the apostles’ blood. Let us embrace what they believed, their life, their labors, their sufferings, their preaching, and their confession of faith.

Want more?

Reflections on the day from the Franciscans.

The 80’s movie.

PBS documentary.

Suggestions for action

Martyrdom is a spiritual gift which few desire. But the church was founded and continues to stand strong because of people who give their lives of for the cause, regardless of the opposition.

Appreciate the brave people who have safeguarded and delivered the faith to you.

Ponder the opposition that threatens you and how Jesus will strengthen you to stand in the face of evil.

 

June 18 – Vernard Eller

Today’s Bible reading and an excerpt

Read John 10:14-18

I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.

More thoughts for meditation about Vernard Eller

Vernard Eller, who died this day in 2007, was an Anabaptist scholar, author, and teacher during some of the most trying eras for peacemakers and simplicity practitioners—the latter half of the 20th Century. He was part of the Church of the Brethren (“cousins” to the Brethren in Christ) and most of his presence was in the West Coast part of that family.

His most famous works are The Mad Morality and Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers. He was known as an effective and practical interpreter of radicals like Søren Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, and Jacques Ellul. Eller was an open critic of materialism and nationalism in the Church as well as a vocal advocate for simplicity, reducing possessions, radical sharing of wealth, and nonviolent conflict resolution.

“The primary thrust of my life has been to try to bring into focus four different elements not often seen as even being compatible: a strong Christian commitment; solid thought and scholarship; clear and powerful communication; and true wit and humor,” said Eller in a 1980 issue of Messenger magazine.

“To put the matter simply the problem with today’s congregations is that they are usually far more concerned to ‘be’ somewhere than to ‘get’ somewhere; to establish and consolidate a secure position, rather than to push on toward a goal. But according to the New Testament, stability and security are precisely ‘not’ what God intended for the church. Instead, Eller believes, the church should be a do-it-yourself, de-institutionalized, de-professionalized people in a caravan – a community of the outward bound”—from The Outward Bound: Caravaning as the Style of the Church

Want More?

The MAD Morality: An Expose [link]

A short article “The Lord’s Supper is Not a Sacrament” [link]

Wikipedia article for Christian Anarchism [link]

Suggestions for action

Much of what Eller was pioneering for our age we have have summed up in the word “alternativity.” We are not only opposed to the misguided attachments of the church’s past, we are resisting the “mad” morality of the new world order. Resistance is not enough, of course, we want restoration. It takes some thinking to be a Jesus follower! Take one aspect of this post and write a paragraph about it in your journal. Title it: the gift Vernard Eller gave me. Make sure to add how you expect to use the gift.

June 9 – Columba

Today’s Bible reading

Praise the Lord from the earth,
    you great sea creatures and all ocean depths,
lightning and hail, snow and clouds,
    stormy winds that do his bidding,
you mountains and all hills,
    fruit trees and all cedars,
wild animals and all cattle,
    small creatures and flying birds,
kings of the earth and all nations,
    you princes and all rulers on earth,
young men and women,
    old men and children.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,
    for his name alone is exalted;
    his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. — Psalm 148:7-13

More thoughts for meditation about Columba

Columba is a “saint” who still appeals to our imaginations almost fifteen hundred years after his death. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Scotland. He was not only a great leader, he had a big imagination that resulted in an outbreak of Celtic art we still celebrate. He also had a big voice and might have sang his own version of today’s psalm, since the Celtic church had a deep respect of God’s presence in creation and Columba, no doubt met the Lord on his many daring sea voyages and missionary journeys.

He was born in Ireland, on December 7, 521 A.D. to Fedhlimidh and Eithne in Donegal (Northern Ireland). He was of “royal blood,” and might have become High King of Ireland had he not chosen to be a priest.

As a young man, Columba soon took an interest in the church, joined the monastery at Moville, and was ordained a deacon by the famous and influential Finnian. After studying with a bard called Gemman, Columba was ordained a priest, then bishop of Clonfad. Columba entered the monastery of Mobhi Clarainech and trained with the others who became “the twelve apostles of Ireland.” When disease forced the disbanding of that monastery, Columba went north and founded the church of Derry.

Tradition has it that after founding several other monasteries, Columba copied Finnian’s psalter (or was it a precious copy of the Latin Vulgate? Sixth century history was not fastidiously stored). He did this without the permission of Finnian, and thus devalued the book and broke with common decency. When Finnian took the matter to High King Dermott for judgment, Dermott judged in favor of Finnian, stating “to every cow its calf; to every book its copy” (the first copyright law!). Columba refused to hand over the copy, claiming that his converts deserved the scripture. King Dermott forced the issue militarily. Columba’s family and clan defeated Dermott at the battle of Cooldrevny in 561.

Tradition further holds that Molaisi of Devenish, Columba’s spiritual father, ordered Columba to bring the same number of souls to Christ that he had caused to die as penance.

For his theft and the deaths it caused, Columba ended up in exile from Ireland. He settled at the first place where his homeland could no longer be seen across the sea. With twelve companions he started a new life, founding a monastery on the island of Iona in the year 563. They lived as Celtic monks in a community of separate cells. But Columba and his companions combined their contemplative life with extraordinary missionary activity.

Among his many accomplishments, Columba was a splendid sailor. He sailed far among the islands of Scotland and traveled deep inland, making converts and founding churches. In Ireland, it is said, he had already founded a hundred churches. In Scotland he is credited with converting the Picts, including a journey to witness to the King during which he thwarted the Loch Ness monster.

 

Columba and Nessie by Laura Ramie

Of all the Celtic saints in Scotland, Columba’s life is the best documented, because manuscripts of the Life of Columba, written by Adamnan, one of his early successors as abbot of Iona, have survived.

Columba was a poet as well as a man of action. Some of his poems in both Latin and Gaelic have come down to us, and they reveal him to be very sensitive to the beauty of his surroundings, as well as, in Adamnan’s phrase, “gladdened in his inmost heart by the joy of the Holy Spirit.”

He died on June 9 in the year 597.

More?

Columba the Creative Sufferer [link]

YouTube history on Celtic saints [link]

The impact of Columba lives on in Scotland [link]

Columba (and others) and the Book of Kells [Part 1 link] [Part 2 link]

Suggestions for action

Columba might have been king if he had not been serious about Jesus. He might have been a powerful church man in Ireland if he hadn’t put himself on the wrong side of the law and started a war! Maybe you wish you had never followed Jesus. Maybe you wish you had not done those wrong things. Maybe Jesus can use you anyway, starting on whatever little island you find yourself today, despite the desires that threaten to dominate your life. Consider what would happen if your future were in God’s hands (since it is).

June 3 — Kizito

Image result for st. kizito

Today’s Bible reading

When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.” — Acts 4:17-32

More thoughts for meditation about Kizito (1872-June 3, 1886)

Kizito* was the youngest of the Ugandan martyrs who suffered death rather than renounce his faith on June 3rd, 1886. The Ugandan Martyrs refer to a group of forty-five Christians – twenty-two Catholics and twenty-three Anglicans – who were tortured and killed over a period stretching from 1885 to 1887 for their faith.  Christians were persecuted by the Kabaka (ruler) who was Mwanda during this period.  Bugandan territory is now incorporated into the Republic of Uganda.

Priests belonging to the Missionaries in Africa, commonly referred to as the White Fathers (due to their white habits), arrived in Uganda in 1879.  Their mission was met with little resistance at first as they shared their faith among the people of Buganda.  That changed when the Kabaka, Mutesa, died and was succeeded by his son, Mwanga.  Mwanga viewed Christianity as a threat to his power.

The Christian views on morality – especially the teaching that pedophilia was a sin – did not endear them to Mwanda, who was a pedophile and routinely solicited sexual favors from his young pages.  His chief page, Joseph Mukasa was a Catholic who did his best to protect his young charges.  He even had the courage and conviction to confront Mwanga and insist he give up his sinful ways.  Mwanga’s response was to have him beheaded.

Joseph Mukasa was succeeded as chief page by Charles Lwanga who also was a Catholic and who also was vigorous in his protection of the young pages.  Mwanga became increasing enraged as the pages, Kizito among them, continually refused and rebuffed Mwanga’s sexual advances. Mwanga eventually had the pages brought before him, giving them a choice to renounce their Christian faith and live – or choose to keep their faith and die.

Many of the pages including Charles Lwanga and Kizito chose their faith.  There were fifteen in the group who were bound and made to walk two days to Namugongo where they would be killed.  One of the Christians, Matthias Kalemba, was martyred enroute.

Upon reaching Namugongo, Charles Lwanga was the first to be burned at the stake.  The following is a moving excerpt taken from the Catholic News agency:

The executioners slowly burnt his feet until only the charred remained.  Still alive, they promised him that they would let him go if he renounced his faith.  He refused saying, “You are burning me, but it is as if you are pouring water over my body.”  He then continued to pray silently as they set him on fire. 

The other pages were burned alive together.  As they were being executed, their faith remained strong until the end, as they prayed and sang hymns.

The death of these martyrs had quite the opposite effect the Kabaka intended. Many witnessing the horrific deaths of these amazing young men who gave their young lives so willingly for their faith asked to be baptized.

* This description of  Bugandan kinship structure may be unfamiliar to you if you grew up in the United States. Kizito’s real father was Lukomera of the Lungfish (Mamba) Clan, and his mother, who bore Lukomera nine children before she deserted him and died, was Wanga¬bira of the Civet-cat (Ffumbe) Clan. Nyika, or Nyikomuyonga, Guardian of Mwanga’s umbilical cord, often said to be the father of Kizito, was his father by adoption only. The relationship arose from a blood-pact between Nyika’s father Kiggwe and a member of the Lungfish Clan named Mitalekoya. Kiggwe, a descendent of Kabaka (King) Kateregga and a member of the Leopard (Ngo) Clan, was county chief of Ggomba when he made this alliance. Later he incurred the royal displeasure, was deprived of his office and possessions and became virtually and oulaw, because he was out of favor with the Kabaka. In this time of adversity, the blood-pact stood him in good stead. Because of it, the Lungfish Clan gave him and his family asylum and aid, and Mitalekoya became a second father to his son Nyika.

More

Uganda martyrs: Tracing the roots of St. Kizito

Mwanga – the king who killed the Uganda martyrs

Suggestions for action

The church in Uganda remains attentive to sexuality. That seems predictable, since some of its foundation is resistance to sexual predators. Most contexts prove dangerous for Christians, if not everyone. What is prowling around like a lion, as Peter sees it, trying to devour your heart and soul?

The main pressure the King of Buganda felt in the time of Kizito was from colonizers. The French Catholics and English Anglicans were in league with their respective country’s rush to “protect” areas of Africa. Muslim traders were eager to have fortified trading posts and a beachhead for Islam. Evangelism coupled with colonization is one of the stains on Christian history. Like Joseph told his brothers, “You meant it for evil but God used it for good.” Africa is now the continent with the most Christians. Have you experienced or done anything evil that God used for good? Praise God for the goodness, and consider what justice and forgiveness mean to you.

June 3 — Hudson Taylor

Today’s Bible reading

Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar? In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel.

But I have not used any of these rights. And I am not writing this in the hope that you will do such things for me, for I would rather die than allow anyone to deprive me of this boast. For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. — 1 Corinthians 9:13-17

More thoughts for meditation about Hudson Taylor

In 1853 a small boat left Liverpool with Hudson Taylor on board, a gaunt and wild-eyed 21-year-old missionary. He was headed for a country that was just coming into the European/American Christian consciousness: China. By the time Taylor died a half-century later, China was viewed as the most fertile and challenging of mission fields of all and thousands volunteered annually to serve there.

Taylor was born to a Methodist couple fascinated with the Far East who had prayed for their newborn, “Grant that he may work for you in China.” Years later, a teenage Hudson experienced a spiritual birth during an intense time of prayer in which, as he later put it, life stretched out “before Him with unspeakable awe and unspeakable joy.” He spent the next years in frantic preparation, learning the rudiments of medicine, studying Mandarin, and immersing himself ever deeper into the Bible and prayer.

His ship arrived in Shanghai, one of five “treaty ports” China had opened to foreigners following its first Opium War with England. Almost immediately Taylor made a radical decision (as least for Protestant missionaries of the day): he decided to dress in Chinese clothes and grow a pigtail (as Chinese men did). His fellow Protestants were either incredulous or critical.

Taylor, for his part, was not happy with most missionaries he saw: he believed they were “worldly” and spent too much time with English businessmen and diplomats who needed their services as translators. Instead, Taylor wanted the Christian faith taken to the interior of China. So within months of arriving, and the native language still a challenge, Taylor, along with Joseph Edkins, set off for the interior, setting sail down the Huangpu River distributing Chinese Bibles and tracts.

When the Chinese Evangelization Society, which had sponsored Taylor, proved incapable of paying its missionaries in 1857, Taylor resigned and became an independent missionary; trusting God to meet his needs. In 1861, he became seriously ill (probably with hepatitis) and was forced to return to England to recover. In England, the restless Taylor continued translating the Bible into Chinese (a work he’d begun in China), studied to become a midwife, and recruited more missionaries. Troubled that people in England seemed to have little interest in China, he wrote China: Its Spiritual Need and Claims. In one passage, he scolded, “Can all the Christians in England sit still with folded arms while these multitudes [in China] are perishing—perishing for lack of knowledge—for lack of that knowledge which England possesses so richly?”

Taylor became convinced that a special organization was needed to evangelize the interior of China. He made plans to recruit 24 missionaries: two for each of the 11 unreached inland provinces and two for Mongolia. It was a visionary plan that would have left veteran recruiters breathless: it would increase the number of China missionaries by 25 percent. He was wracked with doubt about the dangers his plan presented. But at the same time he despaired for the millions of Chinese who were dying without the hope of the gospel. While walking along the beach on day, his gloom lifted:

“There the Lord conquered my unbelief, and I surrendered myself to God for this service. I told him that all responsibility as to the issues and consequences must rest with him; that as his servant it was mine to obey and to follow him.”

His new mission, which he called the China Inland Mission (CIM), had a number of distinctive features, including this: its missionaries would have no guaranteed salaries nor could they appeal for funds; they would simply trust God to supply their needs; furthermore, its missionaries would adopt Chinese dress and then press the gospel into the China interior. Within a year of his breakthrough, Taylor, his wife and four children, and 16 young missionaries sailed from London to join five others already in China working under Taylor’s direction.

Taylor continued to make enormous demands upon himself. He was accused of being a tyrant and people left for other missions. Yet by 1876, with 52 missionaries, CIM constituted one-fifth of the missionary force in China. Because there continued to be so many Chinese to reach, Taylor instituted another radical policy: he sent unmarried women into the interior, a move criticized by many veterans. But Taylor’s boldness knew no bounds. In 1881, he asked God for another 70 missionaries by the close of 1884: he got 76. In late 1886, Taylor prayed for another 100 within a year: by November 1887, he announced 102 candidates had been accepted for service.

His leadership style and high ideals created enormous strains between the London and China councils of the CIM. London thought Taylor autocratic; Taylor said he was only doing what he thought was best for the work, and then demanded more commitment from others: “China is not to be won for Christ by quiet, ease-loving men and women,” he wrote. “The stamp of men and women we need is such as will put Jesus, China, [and] souls first and foremost in everything and at every time—even life itself must be secondary.”

Taylor’s grueling work pace, despite poor health ended in a breakdown in 1900. He also lost a wife and four of his eight children by living like the Chinese. Between his work ethic and his absolute trust in God (despite never soliciting funds, his CIM grew and prospered), he inspired thousands to forsake the comforts of the West to bring the Christian message to the vast and unknown interior of China. Though mission work in China was interrupted by the communist takeover in 1949, the CIM continues to this day under the name Overseas Missionary Fellowship (International).

More?

OMF biography 

Chinese people in Manchester take a Hudson Taylor pilgrimage.

Suggestions for action

What do you think of Taylor’s passion for evangelism? In some ways he was strikingly anticolonial. In some ways he was self-destructively obsessive. What do you do with that? What do you think God thinks of Hudson Taylor?

The Lord’s mission also ended in Jesus’ “untimely” death. Do you think we are called to imitate him in some way?

Are you aware of a people group who need to hear the truth about Jesus? Are you called to do anything about that?

May 26 – Bede

Today’s Bible reading

Read Philemon 1:4-7

I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.

More thoughts for meditation about the Venerable Bede

bede“The Venerable Bede” died on this day in 735. He is widely recognized as one of the greatest Anglo-Saxon scholars. When he was seven, Bede was sent to Benedict Biscop at the monastery of St. Peter at Wearmouth for his education; when he was nine he moved to Jarrow, Northumbria, where he would live out the rest of his days. Saint Bede became a deacon at age 19 and priest at 30.

Eventually, Bede was the first native of the British Isles to be named by the Pope as Doctor of the church (in 1899). His most famous work, which is a key source for understanding early British history and the arrival of Christianity, is Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum or The Ecclesiastical History of the English People which was completed in 731 AD. It is the first work of history in which the AD system of dating is used.

Much of Bede’s observations and writings were focused on the natural world. His scholarship is notably advanced because of his ability to weave together fragments into coherent works with very limited resources.

Here is a bit from his most famous work: “The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

Try on this quote: “Better a stupid and unlettered brother who, working the good things he knows, merits life in Heaven than one who though being distinguished for his learning in the Scriptures, or even holding the place of a doctor, lacks the bread of love.”

This is also a good image: “Jesus opened the tavern of heaven and poured out the wine of the Holy Ghost.”

More about Bede

Want to read Bede’s groundbreaking book? [link]

More from English people who love him? [link] 

Additions from Orthodox Wiki: [link]

A Channel 4 take in less than 2 minutes. [link]

Suggestions for action

Bede was a writer and researcher. He was a preserver of good things and true things. If you are a writer, too, take your art seriously and tell the truth. Maybe you should write a little history of your cell, or of a person you admire. Bede’s work has made a difference for 1300 years!

May 16 – Brendan

Today’s Bible reading 

How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone. What you ought to say is, “If the Lord wants us to, we will live and do this or that.” James 4:14-15

More thoughts for meditation about Brendan the Navigator

Brendan (c. 484 – c. 577) was an Irish monastic called “the Navigator”, “the Voyager”, and “the Bold,” a man who understood his calling to walk in extreme vulnerability. He and some companions went out onto the Atlantic Ocean in search of the Island of Paradise. They searched for 7 years and had many adventures along the way. The chronicle of Brendan’s journey [Navigatio Brendani] became a medieval blockbuster. Much later, some historians decided that Brendan actually made it to the America’s in his leather bound boat (a “coracle”). Brendan put himself at the mercy of God as a spiritual adventurer. He quested.

Brendan was born in Tralee in southwest of Ireland. His parents were Finnlug and Cara. He was baptized by Saint Erc, and was originally named “Mobhí.” But the signs and portents attending his birth and baptism led to be christened Broen-finn, meaning fair-drop. For five years he was educated under Saint Ita. When he was six he was sent to Saint Jarlath’s monastery school to further his education. Brendan is one of the “Twelve Apostles of Ireland”, one of those  tutored by the great teacher, Finnian of Clonard.

At the age of twenty-six, Brendan was ordained a priest by Saint Erc. Afterwards, he founded a number of monasteries. Brendan’s first voyage took him to the Arran Islands, where he founded a community. He also visited Hinba (Argyll), an island off Scotland where he is said to have met Columba. On the same voyage he traveled to Wales, and finally to Brittany, on the northern coast of France. Between the years 512 and 530 Brendan built monastic cells at Ardfert, and, at the foot of Mount Brandon. From there he set out on his famous seven-year voyage looking for Paradise.

St. Brendan’s Prayer

Shall I abandon, O King of mysteries, the soft comforts of home? Shall I turn my back on my native land, and turn my face towards the sea?

Shall I put myself wholly at your mercy, without silver, without a horse, without fame, without honour? Shall I throw myself wholly upon You, without sword or shield, without food and drink, without a bed to lie on?Shall I say farewell to my beautiful land, placing myself under Your yoke?

Shall I pour out my heart to You, confessing my manifold sins and begging forgiveness, tears streaming down my cheeks? Shall I leave the prints of my knees on the sandy beach, a record of my final prayer in my native land?

Shall I then suffer every kind of wound that the sea can inflict? Shall I take my tiny boat across the wide sparkling ocean? O King of the Glorious Heaven, shall I go of my own choice upon the sea?

O Christ, will You help on the wild waves?

Want more?

Launch on St. Brendan’s Day [link to Development]. Memorial to Brendan [poem]

From St. Brendan’s monastery in Maine [link]

Poem: The Death of St. Brendan by J.R.R. Tolkien. [link]

Frederick Buechner’s Brendan: A Novel.

Revisioning the inspiration for one of the most popular and enduring medieval legends, Frederick Buechner tells the tale of the colorful sixth-century Irish saint Brendan through the eyes of his loyal friend and follower, Finn. This animated vision of Brendan’s dynamic path chronicles the Celtic world of fifteen hundred years ago and contains all the complex moral messages that abound in the best mythology. 

Brendan’s life illustrated by Irish children:

Suggestions for action

May we quest so boldly toward new waters with God. May we face the fears of the deep and unknown so faithfully. See if you can pray Brendan’s prayer for yourself. Maybe you can even envision you and your friends in a coracle, testing your trust on the sea. What kind of “sea” is it for you. How are you called to voyage?

Here is another rendition of his prayer for you to pray:

Help me to journey beyond the familiar
and into the unknown.
Give me the faith to leave old ways
and break fresh ground with You.
Christ of the mysteries, I trust You
to be stronger than each storm within me.
I will trust in the darkness and know
that my times, even now, are in Your hand.
Tune my spirit to the music of heaven,
and somehow, make my obedience count for You.

May 9 – Nicholaus Zinzendorf

Today’s Bible reading

Read Isaiah 58

Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
 Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

More thoughts for meditation about Nicolaus Zinzendorf

Nicolaus Zinzendorf died on this day in 1760.

Nicholas Ludwig, Count Zinzendorf, was born in Dresden in 1700. He was very much a part of the Pietist movement in Germany, which emphasized personal piety and an emotional component to the religious life. This was in contrast to the state Lutheran Church of the day, which had grown to symbolize a largely intellectual faith centered on belief in specific doctrines. He believed in “heart religion,” a personal salvation built on the individual’s spiritual relationship with Christ.

Zinzendorf was born into one of the most noble families of Europe. His father died when he was an infant, and he was raised at Gros Hennersdorf, the castle of his influential Pitetistic grandmother. Stories abound of his deep faith during childhood. As a young man he struggled with his desire to study for the ministry and the expectation that he would fulfill his hereditary role as a Count. As a teenager at Halle Academy, he and several other young nobles formed a secret society, The Order of the Grain of Mustard Seed. The stated purpose of this order was that the members would use their position and influence to spread the Gospel. As an adult, Zinzendorf later reactivated this adolescent society, and many influential leaders of Europe ended up joining the group. Their number included the King of Denmark, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the Archbishop of Paris.

Zinzendorf was one of the most controversial figures of the early eighteenth century. The crowned heads of Europe and religious leaders of both Europe and America all knew him — and either loved him or hated him.

Although born to an aristocratic family, Zinzendorf decided to use his wealth to shelter a group of Christian radicals later called the Moravian Brethren on his land during a tumultuous time in Europe when it was unsafe to not be part of an established state church.  In 1722 a small band of Jesus-followers who chose not to be a part crossed the border from Moravia to settle in a town they called Herrnhut, or “the Lord’s Watch.”

During its first five years of existence the Herrnhut settlement showed few signs of spiritual power. By the beginning of 1727 the community of about three hundred people was wracked by dissension and bickering. So the village was an unlikely site for a revival! Zinzendorf and others, however, covenanted to prayer and labor for the Holy Spirit to move among them. Largely due to Zinzendorf’s leadership in daily Bible studies, the group came to formulate a unique document, known as the Brotherly Agreement, which set forth basic tenets of Christian behavior. Residents of Herrnhut were required to sign a pledge to abide by these Biblical principals. There followed an intense and powerful experience of renewal, often described as the “Moravian Pentecost.”

On May 12 during a communion service, the entire congregation felt a powerful presence of the Holy Spirit, and felt their previous differences swept away. This experience began the Moravian renewal which led to remarkable ministry. Christians were aglow with new life and power, dissension vanished and unbelievers were converted. Looking back to that day and the four glorious months that followed, Zinzendorf later recalled: “The whole place represented truly a visible habitation of God among men.” A spirit of prayer was immediately evident in the fellowship and continued throughout that “golden summer of 1727,” as the Moravians came to designate the period. On August 27 of that year twenty-four men and twenty-four women covenanted to spend one hour each day in scheduled prayer. Some others enlisted in the “hourly intercession.” For over a hundred years members of the Moravian Church maintained this continual prayer. “At home and abroad, on land and sea, this prayer watch ascended unceasingly to the Lord,” stated historian A. J. Lewis.

In 1731, while attending the coronation of Christian VI in Copenhagen, the young Count met a converted slave from the West Indies, Anthony Ulrich. Anthony’s tale of his people’s plight moved Zinzendorf, who brought him back to Herrnhut. As a result, two young men, Leonard Dober and David Nitchmann, were sent to St. Thomas to live among the slaves and preach the Gospel. This was the first organized Protestant mission work, and grew rapidly to Africa, America, Russia, and other parts of the world. By 1791, 65 years after commencement of their hourly intercession, the small Moravian community had placed 300 missionaries from Greenland to South Africa, literally from one end of the earth to the other.

Members of the Mo­ra­vi­an Church helped populate the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania. as are the Brethren in Christ, they are known as an historic Peace Church.

More on Zinzendorf and the Moravians

Suggestions for action

Pray: May our whole church be a truly visible habitation of God.

The Pietists wanted heart religion. They used Bible study, prayer and intentional community to grow it. They shared resources and went on mission to show it. What do you want? What yearning in your spirit meets the passion of God’s Spirit?

 

May 8 — Julian of Norwich

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Today’s Bible reading

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14-19

More thoughts for meditation about Julian of Norwich

Julian of Norwich (1342-c.1416) is known to us almost only through her book, The Revelations of Divine Love, which is widely acknowledged as one of the great classics of the spiritual life. She is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in English which has survived.

We do not know Julian’s actual name but her name is taken from St. Julian’s Church in Norwich where she lived as an anchoress for most of her life. We know from the medieval literary work, The Book of Margery Kempe,  that Julian was known as a spiritual counselor. People would come to her cell in Norwich  to seek advice. Considering that, at the time, the citizens of Norwich suffered from plague and poverty, as well as a famine, she must have counseled a lot of people in pain. Yet, her writings are suffused with hope and trust in God’s goodness.

Julian’s Revelations of Divine Love is based on a series of sixteen visions she received on the 8th of May 1373. Julian was lying on, what was thought at the time, to be her deathbed when suddenly she saw Christ bleeding in front of her. She received  insight into his sufferings and his love for us. Julian’s message remains one of hope and trust in  God, whose compassionate love is always given to us. In this all-gracious God there can be no element of wrath. The wrath — “all that is contrary to peace and love — is in us and not in God. God’s saving work in Jesus of Nazareth and in the gift of God’s Spirit, is to slake our wrath in the power of his merciful and compassionate love.” Julian did not perceive God as blaming or judging us, but as enfolding us in love. Famously, Julian  used women’s experience of motherhood to explore how God loves us, referring to Jesus as our Mother.

The Revelations of Divine Love comes to us in two versions; the first  (the short text) written shortly after the revelation given to Julian , the second  (the long text) written twenty years later.  The long text is greatly expanded to include her meditations on what she had been shown. Today, only seventeenth century copies of earlier manuscripts of the long text, and  fragments from the fifteenth century survive.

Julian recounts that she was thirty and a half years old when she received her visions and this is how we know she was born in 1342. (An editor to one of the surviving manuscripts speaks of her as a “devout woman, who is a recluse at Norwich, and still alive, A.D. 1413”).  There is further evidence to be found in a contemporary will that she was alive in 1416, and that she had a maid who lived in a room next to the cell.   Apart from that, we know  nothing else about Julian’s life. However, reading Revelations of Divine Love, reveals  an intelligent, sensitive and very down-to-earth woman who maintains her trust in God’s goodness while addressing doubt, fear and deep theological questions.

St Julian's Church, Norwich, 2009.jpg
The church building where she lived.

Interest in Julian’s writings has grown over recent decades  This has been as more and more people have discovered the significance of her book. Her lyrical language and positive image of God  speak to the modern reader. Her work is well-respected by theologians, historians and literary scholars, and there are now dozens of translations of her Revelations, together with countless commentaries. Modern poets and writers as diverse as T.S. Eliot, Denise Levertov, and Iris Murdoch reference Julian in their writing.

Julian’s Shrine, off Rouen Rd. in Norwich (above), is visited by pilgrims from all over the world.

Quotes:

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

And all shall be well. And all shall be well. And all manner of things shall be exceeding well.

God, of thy goodness, give me Thyself;
for Thou art enough for me,
and I can ask for nothing less
that can be full honor to Thee.
And if I ask anything that is less,
ever Shall I be in want,
for only in Thee have I all.

Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.

Truth sees God, and wisdom contemplates God, and from these two comes a third, a holy and wonderful delight in God, who is love.

More?

Revelations of Divine Love [audio book]

Robert Fruehwirth’s book that puts Julian into action [Amazon] [lecture]

Suggestions for action

Julian’s revelations are not unattainable to any person who is seeking. maybe we all have some kind of early experience that informs much of our lifelong walk with Jesus. Spend some time seeking. Let God clarify for you just what you should be hearing. If you really want to take Julian’s example, you will dare to write it all down and meditate on it another day.