"There is an intellectual desire, an eros of the mind. Without it there would arise no questioning, no inquiry, no wonder." Bernard Lonergan

"It seems clear that humans cannot significantly reduce or mitigate the dangers inherent in their use of life by ccumulating more information or better theories or by achieving greater predictability or more caution in their scientific and industrial work. To treat life as less than a miracle is to give up on it." Wendell Berry

"Do not be afraid, my little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." Luke 12:32

Monday, April 30, 2012

Advice to Graduates?

I saw this article online, found it from Twitter.  It really intrigues me.  I have to speak at Broughton High School later this month. 
Here is the piece from the Wall Street Journal @WSJ: 
10 Things Your Commencement Speaker Won't Tell You by Charles Wheelan
(Which is adapted from an address that he gave at Dartmouth last year.)

Here is a link to find out more about Dr. Charles Wheelan.

And, here is an interview from wsj.com
Interview with Dr. Charles Wheelan

What advice would you give to college and / or high school graduates? 
Post below or let me know via twitter @PastorOnPoint or email cedmonston@whitememorial.org or find me on Facebook.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lessons from Dr. Jim

One of my most treasured mentors joined the church triumphant last week, taking his place with the communion of all saints.  He was a treasure to me, and to many, many others.  One of the great honors of my ministry was speaking at his witness to the resurrection service yesterday.  Most of what I said came from his journals and his writings.  So I share it with you. 

Lessons from Dr. Jim
Remarks at the Memorial, the Witness to the Resurrection of Dr. Jim McChesney
First Presbyterian Church Goldsboro, NC
April 11, 2012
Isaiah 40: 28 – 31; John 14: 1 – 6 and 25 – 57; 1st Corinthians 15: 51 -58

Did you hear the one about….the farmer…the golfer…the preacher…the teacher… the Scottish bus driver…the door to door salesman…the doctor…the old man who rewrote his will three times?
            At least in later years, I am convinced that this was Jim McChesney’s favorite joke – at least since 2005:  “There was a mild mannered Quaker who had enough of his milk cow, Bossie, who often kicked over the bucket of milk, and then hit him in the face with her tail.  The Quaker said, “Now Bossie, thou knowest that I am a Quaker:  that I cannot smite thee, curse thee, nor break thy tail.  But Bossie, what thou dost not know is that I can sell thee to a Presbyterian who can evermore beat the hell out of thee.”
           In a journal he wrote a few years ago he wrote in the margins after he told this joke – “telling this joke may risk losing the audience and never getting them back.” I figure that conservatively, Jim McChesney wrote or told 5 jokes a day from age 10 to age 98.  That might mean that Jim told nearly 161,000 jokes or funny yarns in his lifetime.  And that might be a conservative number. 
          What I will remember most about Jim McChesney was this profound gift of the Spirit that he had to blend wit and wisdom seamlessly with one another.  He used to tell me that he often found that wit contained the highest forms of wisdom -- he often told me that he thought the human heart learned best through laughter.  He was right.
           As he would start to tell me a joke that he became sure I had recognized, he’d say “stop me” if you have heard this one before.  Or he would apologize for repeating the joke.  I’d always tell him to tell it anyway.  We did this so often that I think over the last five years his saying “stop me” was just a way for me to affirm that I liked the joke that he was about to tell.
          Back in 2005 he wrote, “My profession is notorious for repetitions and reruns, and I promise not to disappoint you!  In my defense, some charitable person has said, ‘if it isn’t worth telling twice, it probably wasn’t worth telling once.’ So if you have heard it, do like I did and pretend you haven’t.”  “Stop me...” meant “tell me more.”  “Stop me…” really meant, “let me tell you again.”
          One of the greatest gifts of my life was that from 2004 until a few weeks ago when we spoke on the phone, I enjoyed the gift of Dr. Jim McChesney.  Some of you enjoyed this gift of pastoral wit and wisdom from God much longer than I did. 
          In some ways I have drawn the long straw today – getting to share words of celebration and thanksgiving as we remembering a dear, dear friend as we proclaim God’s victory over death through the resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord.  And in other ways, I have drawn the short straw, too: how do you do this?  How do you remember a life of 98 years?  How do you do this thoroughly and yet succinctly?
          Jim once wrote that, “I have been taught that any presentation should have good introduction and a very good conclusion…very close together.”  So how does one do this – succinctly speak and preach about a life begun in 1913 and ended last week?
          Dr. Jim pastored all over the southeast, he served the church at every level, and at 98 years old he was the “dean” of our Seminary and Presbytery.   He lived in Tarboro most recently but before that he called Oxford, and Rocky Mount, and Pensacola, and Raleigh, and Goldsboro home.  In the years that I knew him, he never refused my requests for counsel, my petitions for help, or my desperation for him to help quell my tremors of inadequacy.  Dr. Jim was the mentor who warned me to guard against premature certainties, and who taught me that neither our best nor worst days are beyond the reach or need of God’s grace.  Sitting by his side was like being a sponge – only instead of water, it was wisdom and charity and humor and grace-filled faith are what we all go to soak in.
            I have many sweet memories of my years as a Pastor in Tarboro, but among the sweetest will always be one of my final visits with Dr. Jim before I moved to Raleigh.  Dr. Jim took me by his side and he prayed over me – he took my hands in those huge hands that he had and he shared his faith and words and he prayed over me.  It was lovely.  I am so grateful that Dr. Jim took the time to touch my life. 
            So “stop me” if you have heard this one before.  “Stop me” if you can testify to that statement:  “Dr. Jim took the time to touch my life.”  Is there anyone here who cannot share a story of Jim McChesney, of how deeply he loved and cared for his wife Carolyn?  About how he never ran out of coaching tips for Dean Smith or Roy Williams?  About how he never ran out of good books to read, or quotations to recommend?  Is there anyone here who can’t tell about this tall, bold voiced man, who struggled to know God even as he was fully known?  Like I said, “stop me,” if you have heard this before but I’d say that few of us, if any of us, will live to see a time when our lives have touched so many lives as did the life of Jim McChesney.
            Back in 2006 or so, I talked him into preaching at Howard Memorial, in Tarboro, one final time.  In that sermon he quoted Sir Isaac Newton who said, "To myself I am only a child playing on the beach, while vast oceans of truth lie undiscovered before me."  As recently as January, Jim and I had long discussions about theology.  He was always diving into the next question, the next theological query, the next book he wanted to read and yearn to understand.  In Jim’s mind and heart he believed that even after 98 years, God was still going to surprise him, mold him, teach him, and challenge him.  Yes, even back in January he was still asking me questions with an intellectual curiosity and a genuine and faithful optimism. 
            Indeed, the only time I ever saw him down were times when we would talk and pray about Carolyn.  He did love her so and then miss her so in equal measure.  It would be hard for me to overstate the toll her absence took on him these past two years.  And it comforts my heart to think of their spirits, their souls, rejoined – through the power of God in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Somehow it helps me see the world as a little more complete again, at least in some small way.  Comforted I am in the thought that the faith they proclaimed and practiced together is the faith that holds them now in the church triumphant, the communion of all of God’s saints!
           Now, I do have a confession to make.  I am not exactly following Dr. Jim’s instructions.  I am ad-libbing a little.  It may come as little surprise to those of you who knew him best – he could be a wee bit particular you know – that he left detailed instructions for his memorial service.  And I hope he’ll forgive me for breaking rank, a little.  But, as Dr. Jim nearly always said as he quoted G.K. Chesterton, “Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.” 
          Dr. Jim wrote that, “I request that the memorial service be a joyful, triumphant worship experience that will give all glory and honor to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Instead of a personal eulogy I request a sharing of some of the thoughts, ideas, which have special meaning for me.”  And to a large extent this is what I have done, placing those ideas and thoughts among my remarks.
          But I do want to give Dr. Jim most of the last words of this homily.  Writing in 2004 he wrote once more something I suspect he preached all over God’s earth.  He said, “Not for one minute do I believe that God has stacked life’s cards against us.  Rather, I am convinced that he has arranged them in ways that make it impossible, in the long run, for us to get along without him.  And in so doing, he is not being arbitrary or asserting his rightful authority, but rather graciously ordering life in the only way that can ultimately be fulfilling for us.”
          That is as lovely a definition of providence and election, divine providence and election, as any I have read.  So if we are counted Jim’s friends, or Jim’s family, if we share in Jim’s church – then we are part of the divine and gracious ordering of which Jim was speaking.  And to that I say thanks be to God!
          And then from what he called his ‘Ethical Will’ which he wrote to his family (and by proxy to us all) I’d like to share these words.  If you’ll listen closely to this quotation, you’ll hear Jim McChesney preach the gospel and sum for us Isaiah 40, John 14, and 1 Corinthians 15; if you’ll listen closely you’ll hear how to soar on eagles wings, how to understand that death has no sting for the saints of light, where the way that Jesus proclaimed in John 14 is to be found.  Jim wrote, “When I think about legacy, I am convinced that values are far more lasting than valuables, and I wish to share some of mine….I’m becoming more and more to understand that grace in the New Testament is a shorthand word for all that God has done for us and is eager to do for us in Jesus Christ – his life, death and resurrection, to save us and enable us to grow in fulfilling relationships to him and to each other.  This, I believe, is the essence of the Christian Gospel- the marvelous, infinite, matchless grace of the Lord Jesus Christ graciously doing for us what we can never do for ourselves.”  The resurrected Lord Jesus Christ doing for us what we cannot do for ourselves?  That is the gospel.  In Jim’s own words that is the gospel.
            I had a vision of a sort last night while I was thinking about this homily – it was a small vision.  But I closed my eyes and imagined Dr. Jim, Dr. McChesney, saying thank you to Jesus, “Thank you” he says to the Lord, “for finally answering all those questions that I have had.  I have been asking them for a long time.”
            And then, in my vision of a sort, Dr. Jim just can’t help himself, “Jesus, stop me if you have heard the one about the old milk cow that belonged to the Quaker farmer…”
            And Jesus says, “Jim, my good and faithful and patient servant, I have heard it before.  Jim, I have heard them all before.”
            And then Jim, for one of the few times ever is really quiet.
            But then Jesus says something like, “Jim, tell it to me anyway, because I like it best when you tell it.”
            And Dr. Jim smiles, and shares with the Lord of Life the wit and wisdom that he shared with us all for so long.
            Brothers and sisters, the resurrected Lord and His gracious love, the Lord Jim so often proclaimed has now claimed him in the very trust that Jim proclaimed and that we uphold.  Well done, Jim.  Well done indeed.

           Let us pray:  Lord God – we thank you that on our worst days we are never beyond the reach of your grace, and on our best days we are never beyond the need of it.  We thank you for the man who preached this, and taught this, and did his best to live this.  For Jim McChesney we say thank you, thank you, thank you.  Amen.