LATEST PODCAST. Preachers are like manure. When you spread us out, we can do a lot of good. But when you pile us up all together it can be almost unbearable. On a preachers tour to Israel I found out why.
A Prayer for the Russian People
Today I pray for the people of Russia, passive victims of a sociopathic leader, taken into war without their voices and opinions being considered, lacking full knowledge or with the benefit of a factual and free press we pray.
Lord have mercy.
For a nation whose history is replete with czars, dictators and authoritarians, who have crushed dissent, stolen her wealth, compromised her people’s trust and repelled her Christian heritage unless it bow the knee to the idols.
Lord have mercy.
For mothers and grandmothers, whose young sons have been sent on a mission of bloodshed against kinsmen for no rational reason, who shell schools and synagogues and hospitals to assuage the egotism of a despot pursuing a delusional past.
Lord have mercy.
For people suffering hunger, deprivation and financial ruin for nothing better than stubborn lust for power and revenge.
Lord, have mercy.
For opposition leaders and true people of conscience, media, reporters, young people, whose future is being destroyed before their eyes. Protect them as they rise up against Nebuchadnezar, Nero, Stalin and Hitler, whose evil spirits still live among us.
Lord, have mercy.
May we be moved to refrain from hating Russia’s people as we loath her failed leadership. May we help her to return and rebuild her economy and standing when the wickedness has passed into dust and we have repented of our sins.
Lord, have mercy.
May they, and we, know again the refreshing waters of reconciliation and peace, the strength of mercy and forgiveness, the hope your grace provides, and may we learn the ways of war no more.
May they see the bleeding children, the desperate mothers, the suffering families, the terrified immigrants, the overwhelmed helpers, the ruin of infrastructure and homes and places of business and community. May they hear the cry of their courageous Ukrainian neighbors and rise up with us all to say, “Enough.”
Lord, have mercy, have mercy, have mercy on us all. Amen. #StopTheWarAndViolence
Gary Allison Furr. September 11, 2020
I wasn’t on a plane, or a family member receiving frantic calls,
I was not one of the air traffic controllers or military leaders
Or an advisor to the President. I wasn’t at the Pentegon that day
Or even a taxi driver or cop on duty in New York that day.
I sometimes wished to have been more useful as the Towers fell,
Reaching out to help someone else or at least console them.
I was a witness like the rest, but I was where I’ve been since then,
Watching on television, failing at first to understand what was happening.
I knew people on planes that got stuck somewhere, and know people
Who knew people who were on the planes.
But I am just one of the Americans who watched with disbelief, then despair,
And then rage. I wanted annihilation, if I’m honest,
of the merchants of Nihilism guised as a religion,
who hijacked their own faith along with the planes into fanaticism,
carrying us all into a cauldron of misery and death and revenge.
Justice is as elusive now as then, consequences were dealt but no one seems to have learned.
A generation starting their lives changed course,
And Lord, the mourning, etched on us, next to Challenger and Columbia
And Saigon and tsunamis and Katrina and Pearl Harbor for the eldest,
Who remembered shock and fear when there was no instant news.
I was just there, helpless, watching with everyone else,
Paralyzed, then on high alert, then grieving and outraged.
We prayed. We read stories, of lives and people and restaurant workers
Of miraculous escapes, brave firemen and women, lucky misses
Bodies, surrendering to the inevitable, hurtling to the ground
To die by choice rather than smoke and fire. We wanted to know
about the enemies who did this and their perverted spirituality,
their hate of us, their idolatry of a cult of destruction and a single man who caused it,
And we read about war that came to us and mushroomed,
Dead sons and daughters and the boiling clouds of poison and bloodshed
Across the region where three religions were born and peace always goes to die.
And most of all, we watched the cities, the centers of our economic and political lives
Brought to a complete and unnatural stop.
I prayed and led memorials, put out my flag on the mailbox, and prayed some more.
“We’ll never forget this,” we said, and for a while we meant it, truly did.
But time moves on and the present presses memory aside for the next terrible darkness.
Now there are those who don’t remember it at all. And the Pearl Harbor guardians,
They are gone, almost all. Now it is up to those of us who were there.
We can remember every terrible piece of that time, not alone but together.
We can remember stories and read them, cultivate decency and help for each other,
Try to remember how just for a short time we stopped complaining about our lot in life
And blaming one another. For just a while, we revered the dead and honored the heroic.
For one bittersweet episode, our pride and competitive ruthlessness gave way
To family and neighbor and the brevity of things.
There were terrible reactions, and there were stupid people who did thoughtless things
But more often there was a determination not to forget, to comfort the grieving
And to hold onto the deepest about us.
God, we need it back.
One day, we went to the memorial, stared down into that terrifying waterfall
Pouring down, down, disappearing into the earth. It is hard to look at,
And saw families stopping next to names cut out in the ribbon of memory,
Some touching one, perhaps their son or sister or father or friend.
They paused, or left flowers or a note, a wailing wall for Americans.
I saw names I recognized from that day and from my years of remembering,
People who were about an ordinary day, flying to a business meeting,Or to start a vacation, or driving to
the restaurant with the best view To have coffee and breakfast
when the Evil same upon us the earth
And so I remember how fast all can disappear
And hope in a time when we cannot seem to speak to friends
Who voted differently or who don’t share our ideas
That we won’t forget what it felt like to be united in sorrow
And humbled by death
And laid down our selfishness for a holy indignation for what had been done.
I will carry these memories as long as i can, try to hand it on,
tell its stories, and let them speak.
Reframing to Blessings
When I first began to preach as a pastor it was in small churches in Central Texas. They were mostly blue collar and working folks, farmers, retired people who had moved out from the city, an assortment of people who end up in a church together by virtue of geography.
As I was just beginning my ministry, I desperately read books about how to preach and how to be an administrator and how to do all of this and that. But I particularly remember one preaching book that encouraged me to try to turn my main point into a positive affirmation. This became central in my life, even if I didn’t always do it well.
Having trained academically, I had a disposition toward thorough analysis and preface. It meant that I could spend a long time, and in those early sermons I surely did on those poor people, explaining why it was I was going to tell them what I was going to tell them. That usually meant 8 or 10 reasons why the world was going to hell and why they needed the one good thing I was going to slip in right before the final hymn. Only later did I learn to move more consistently to the affirmations of the gospel. people don’t need nearly as much analysis as we are inclined to give.
I find that to be generally true, though, these days. If you look at the Twitter feeds of sports teams, you would believe that every coach is an absolute disaster every player incompetent and no team having any idea what they were doing. We are heavy on criticism and analysis and a little short on blessing. It is a difficult exercise to begin to turn your negativity into affirmation. It goes against the grain of so much of our brokenness.
I preached plenty of sermons that were heavier on analysis and what needs to be fixed. But the best ones were always the ones that moved to the extraordinary good news of hope and transformation. The latter were what Jesus brought to the world, as has every other great religious leader who has ever lived and for that matter the best people in our lives. They have the capacity to take something that can be cast in the negative and turn it into an fresh affirmation. There is a place, an important one, for analysis and criticism. We need to evaluate and reconsider. But one of the great failings of our time is the predominance of the negative. Too much is centered around what’s wrong with the other person or those people or this or that bogeyman created by our collective fears.
Dr Samuel Proctor was a wonderful African American preacher, educator, theologian and scholar. He honored me by contributing a chapter to a book that I helped edit once. He once said of a contemporary, “Well, his “whereases” are pretty good but his “therefores” are a little weak.” It’s the therefores that finally make the difference.
You always remember when someone has forcefully taken familiar and empty concepts and words and recast what had seemed a dark and empty time into something surprisingly filled with hope. This is the genius of authentic leadership and authentic servanthood.
“Reframing” refers to taking something and recasting it so it can be seen afresh. In pastoral conversations, it can convey great power to respond to some statement of despair with, “Of course, another way to look at this…” and to see a light go on in the eyes. Blessing has great power. It is not denial, and it is not romanticized optimism. Blessing comes from Truth. It is an ultimate statement of “the way it is,” beyond our filters and negative predispositions.
Someone once said to me, “It can help to begin to use new words, to state things differently, when we are trying to change.” So, this might be a powerful spiritual practice. Take your dread, fear or hopeless assumption and begin to speak of it anew. Invite a larger perspective, one that allows for blessing, not curses, to be the final word for you.
Turning the Page to a New Day
Some people can look at the big picture and take it in. Others of us have to plant down on the earth and focus on digging the one hole that is ours to do. When you’re trying to get it together, simple is best. You can’t fix the entire universe, but you can fix a healthy breakfast. You can’t answer the question of suffering humanity, but you can lend a hand to one person hurting.
We live in time. It’s different for each of us. But what we do with the hand dealt us will finally determine how the story is written. I don’t even engage in the teacup tempests on social media anymore. I finally realized I can’t correct every misperception out there. And you can’t argue with a stump, unless that pleases you. Some of those online rants remind me of the Calvinist predestinarian fellow who fell down a flight of stairs and got up, dusted himself off and said, “Whew. Glad I got that over with!”
Nothing changes from the arguments. You have to get up and do something to get your life back. It can be a movement, or a cause, but a lot of folks are struggling on a more basic level. I had a wise spiritual director named Ron who told me that when he encourages people to try journaling he sets a goal of two sentences a day. He knew that they would overwhelm themselves with trying to write books (he was talking to me!) for the ages. “Just write couple of sentences.”
It is the little things not the big ones that really get you where you want to go. For stability and peace we look out for the things right by us to get us there. Set simple goals. First thing everyday, get up and do the same things. Make your bed. I read that that is one of the real indicators of depression, surprisingly, and just the simple act of doing that little thing is a discipline that begins to move us out of the funk and into control of living. Find something good to do as soon as you can. Once Basil Pennington was asked the secret of prayer. He said, “First you have to sit down.”
Maybe when you’re struggling you need to lower your own bar a little. One item on the list? Check it off. You’ll sleep better. Tomorrow we’ll try two.
Psalm 131 (New International Version. Copied from biblegateway.com)
A song of ascents. Of David.
3 Israel, put your hope in the Lord
both now and forevermore.
1 My heart is not proud, Lord,
my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters
or things too wonderful for me.
2 But I have calmed and quieted myself,
I am like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child I am content.