The Eastern Gate

Meet Gene Larson!


Gene Larson is a lay person and the Chairperson of the Worship Committee at First United Methodist Church in Normal, IL.  I have found him to be a very capable in engaging both theology and Bible.  He graduated from Kansas State University (Manhattan, KS) and found his way to the Bloomington-Normal area where we worked for State Farm.  My first meeting of Gene was with his dogs.  He is a dog lover and is as dedicated to his canines as they are to him!

Today I welcome Gene to my blog and invite you to read his perspective on Resurrection and New Life.

One of my re-discovered musical groups is the Statler Brothers.  I have always enjoyed country music, at least the form it took 30 and more years ago.  As country music changed, I moved away from it and lost touch with some of the great artists that contributed much to  my enjoyment of it.  The quartet that I enjoyed most had its roots in gospel music and throughout their long career always included some of it in their concerts and shows.  Recently, I was searching iTunes for some new music and ran across a gospel compilation of the Statlers.  One of the songs included was entirely new to me—“The Eastern Gate.”  


This song is referring to a gate on the eastern side of the wall around the old city of Jerusalem.  It is the gate that is closest to the Mount of Olives and it quite likely the one most frequented by Jesus on his comings and goings to the city.  It is almost certainly the gate He used on Maundy Thursday to visit the mountain garden to pray after the Last Supper.  It is very likely the one through which the captured Savior was returned to face the ultimate persecution, prosecution, and execution.  


If you are not familiar with the gospel song, its message conveyed in several verses and repeated chorus is that Jesus will meet us “Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.”  It is an up-tempo piece, at least in the Statler’s rendition of it.  Other gospel artists tend to be less so.  Once you hear it, if Southern Gospel music is to your liking, it is a tune and lyric that is hard to put out of your mind.  As I’ve listened to it numerous times over the last few months, I’ve come to understand what its message might hold for me and, perhaps, for you. .  

The Eastern Gate is a song that at first blush seems to dwell, as much of the related music also does, on our individual deaths and the condition of our souls at the time.  Perhaps one of the reasons the genre’s following is limited is because so much of the music seems to dwell on this singular and personal topic.  The songs we like to sing are more uplifting than the rather somber idea that ultimately we will die and whether or not we will meet the test of the Judge who sits inside the gate.  


The insight for me into this song and others is that it is not just about the end of our human lives, but about the process we go through as we live each day of our lives.  In twelve-step parlance, life that is lived in fear of tomorrow or haunted by the past is far less likely to make it successfully through this day, today.  So my contention is that The Eastern Gate is not one to be avoided or circumvented as we go through life.  Rather it is a place, a process that will lead us to answers about ourselves that will be important to understanding what we need to do to wear the mantle of a disciple.  


Let’s be honest, we are less likely to look closely at what we’re doing with our lives if the only ones we’re trying to please is ourselves.  If however, the person we will meet “…in the morning, over there,” is a wise counselor and friend who can help us understand what the better part might be for us to pursue.  When Jesus said to Martha, “Don’t worry about Mary, she has chosen the better part,” He was telling her that life is more than being a perfect hostess, the best cook, the one with the cleanest house.  He was telling her that choosing to love and care for another is more important than the clothes on our back or the possessions we take so much pride in accumulating.  

The process of self-examination is not easy and most likely is not something we can pull off by ourselves.  We need the independent and yet compassionate advice of someone who cares for us and wants us to succeed even more than we to do.  That presence in our lives is interested not in our stuff but our souls.  That helper, guide, and friend is looking out for us for our sake not for what they can get out of it.  We, on the other hand, tend to look out for “…numero uno” and that is where the problems start.  

When the Ottoman Turks controlled Jerusalem they sealed the gate to prevent the return of the Messiah.  Jewish tradition has it that the Messiah will return to the city and restore the temple via the Eastern Gate.  How like the Turks we are.  We seal off the advice and counsel of those who have our best interests at heart by refusing to look at our lives from any other perspective than our own and by worrying constantly about avoiding the inevitable.  There is nothing we can do about the inevitable.  What will happen will happen and it is up to us to prepare the way as best we can.   That may sound quite final and even judgmental, but I think it is the basis of faith.  Living life for the best result today is what will do the most for us in preparing for any eventuality.  My, our, ultimate salvation is by the grace of God, not the by the works of our hands, feet or money.  The result of life is not what we attain or accumulate.  It is what kind of memories we leave with those whose lives we have touched.

As long as there are free people anywhere on this planet or in this universe, names like Abraham Lincoln, Gandhi, King, Jr. and others will never be forgotten.  The memories of what they did and how they sacrificed to make the world a better place for others is the basis for immortality that cannot be refuted.  Even a person who has no religious bent at all can name for you the persons in their past that has given them strength to get up each day and go on to achieve whatever they could to make the day worth living.  It is without doubt the Way on which we can build a legacy that will carry us into whatever form immortality may take for us.  To be sure, there are others whose presence in this world will also be remembered, because forgetting the atrocities they perpetrated is to allow them to fall into places from which those lessons from the past cannot be resurrected.  

Let’s go inside “The Eastern Gate” and see what the words of this song might say to each of us.  

“I will meet you in the morning.  Just inside the Eastern Gate.
 Then be ready, faithful pilgrim,
 Lest with you it be too late.
Refrain: I will meet you, I will meet you, Just inside the Eastern Gate over there.
 I will meet you, I will meet you, I will meet you in the morning over there.
If you hasten off to glory,
Linger near the Eastern Gate,
 For I’m coming in the morning;
So you’ll not have long to wait. [Refrain]
Keep your lamps all trimmed and burning;
For the Bridegroom watch and wait.
 He’ll be with us at the meeting.  Just inside the Eastern Gate. [Refrain}
O the joys of that glad meeting
 With the saints who for us wait!
 What a blessèd, happy meeting
Just inside the Eastern Gate! [Refrain]”
These verses lead us from where we would take ourselves to where our God, our Higher Power wants us to be.  The urgency of not putting off our faith journey is where we start.  The reality of the uncertainty of this life is underscored and the request is for us to not linger, but for our helper and guide to be just inside the gate when we get there.  The allusion to a parable of Jesus concerning the preparations of the wedding party for the main participants is reinforced.  And, finally, the joy of our welcome to the immortality of our friends and family who shaped, led, admonished, and cheered us to victory over the world.  A world that would just as soon have torn us to bits and scattered our remains so as to put whatever good we possessed in a place where our lives could be of no use to anyone else.

That is not what the God I put my trust in is going to do with my life.  He waits for me to come to Him for that advice and counsel that will turn me from who I am to who I can be.  And, the people who will benefit from the change wrought by God in me are those people who I fed, clothed, visited, healed, and loved in the same way I have been treated by the power that has sustained and will never forsake me.  Jesus came to save the world, not to condemn it. He has no need to condemn anyone, we are perfectly capable of doing that to ourselves.  

The Eastern Gate beckons and calls to each of us to pass through and converse with the love that will never let us go.  

Amen.
Resurrection & New Life:  Every Moment Counts! (Video)

Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!

Title Image found at:  http://www.wolfiewolfgang.com/2010/11/cartwheeling-back-to-health-and.html

My Wife is Sometimes Right, but don’t tell her so!

Alright, sometimes I’m willing to admit when my wife is right and I’m not.  This maybe one of those cases.  Carrie says I’ve been doing too much blogging.  She may be right, but I have a lot on my mind (less in my head, technically, but more on my mind), so you may have to put up with me a while longer.

Today I’ve been thinking about my luck this week.  Not just luck, though.  I’ve been thinking about my blessings.  I’ve slowly been learning about what happened during my surgery and in the time after (which with the anesthesia, I don’t remember, either).

A surgery that was only supposed to last 4-6 hours went for almost 10.  During that time I had family sitting together, surrounding one another and showing love for me that I didn’t even know about in the moment.  My mother, father, and sister never once left the hospital, only taking short breaks to the cafeteria.  Since my wife has so many St. Louis friends, having been raised there, her friends and family came and sat with her, bringing her food and support throughout the day and my loving wife never left the waiting room (according to her, I will get some fact-checking done on this 🙂

After a surgery that when more than twice as long as expected, we can expect that they had been thorough. I’m sure they were, but a new state-of-the-art intraoperative MRI was the real blessing, I guess.  While I was still on the operating table, the surgeon did a new scan and found tissue that still needed to be removed and the surgery continued in order to be sure that it was done right the first time.

So far, I’m already amazed at the care and love that has been shown to me, but there is more.  With every wearying visit, with all the amazing notes through twitter, facebook and comments on my blog…and with the letters that have already found their way to my in-laws house…  I see the blessings around me in all kinds of new ways.

It’s too bad that we wait for these moments in order to notice our blessings, isn’t it?  God fills our lives with continue blessings:  people who care, love being shown, and moments of health and care.  I hope that we will all set aside our cynicism and concerns in life in order to pay more attention to the joys that are right before us.  I hope that we will see the people who surround us in love.  I hope that we will feel healing, even in the midst of pain.  I hope that we can appreciate the small thoughtful things that loved ones do rather than over look them or expect more!

May my week of blessing, shed some light on all of our blessings this week and give us hope and peace for next week!!!

blessings,

Weighing In.

Some of you know that Carrie and I joined Weight Watchers last November.  A lot of people seemed confused about it.  They asked why I would need to diet…well, I was overweight!  Yup, my poor eating habits and lack of exercising were slowly but surely catching up to me in a big way and I wanted to make a change.  Okay, I should be honest: my wife wanted to make a change for herself and she insisted that I do the program with her.  Either way, it was the best decision of my life.  With diet and exercise I have hit the middle of my “healthy weight” range, my doctors are happy, and I feel great.  This isn’t just an issue of vanity.  My growing body and bad cholesterol numbers were a symptom of a mistreated body.

This didn’t happen suddenly.  I gained the weight slowly, over time, and when something (like weight change) happens slowly we don’t realize how bad it is getting.  The other thing with being overweight is that we live in America and it is mirrored by many people around us.  In fact, we were less-overweight than many of the people around us.  When we are surrounded by a problem, like obesity, it is easy to feel a false sense of security.  It is easy to feel as though this is “the norm” and so it is okay.

I say all of this, not as a guilt trip.  Lord knows I, of all people, can’t fault anyone for craving pie and over-eating.  I have done plenty of that!  No, I bring this up because my recent experience with weight loss helped me to realize that I had ignored a problem (my weight) because it was all around me (in Wisconsin, at seminary, and now in Pontiac) and it happened slowly over time (I used to be a skinny high school kid, you know).  Eating the way I ate and saying that I was ‘too busy’ to exercise was normative and, yet, I should have been appalled.  I bring this story to you, because it seems to be me that our weight and health are not the only problems that are like this for us.

I think about first about poverty.  It isn’t an easy issue to tackle and lack-of-money, like being overweight, is a symptom of so many underlying causes.  It is ever-present and seems to be an overwhelming issue to tackle.

I think about racism in early America.  People looked at slaves, and, later, freed black people, and because the oppression had grown steadily and because it was so prevalent, it seemed like it was and should be the normal order of things.

I think about civil rights that began to find footing during the middle part of this past century.  Of course, it broke forth suddenly in the sixties, but since then we have struggled as a nation with our racism.  What we fail to see, far too often, is that the racism exists still today, in fact, especially today: Because racism is passed from generation to generation, it is often less overt, and because it is deeply cultural, it is easy to pretend it doesn’t exist anymore when we really should be horrified by it.

I think about genocides that have occurred in places like Rwanda.  It seemed so distant and Americans tended, at the time, to ignore the horrendous crimes against humanity that were being perpetrated because it was so far away, it was happening to “other” people, and, when it was finally shown in the media, it was made “tv-friendly.”  We should have been appalled, but somehow we have an idea that for people in other countries “these things happen.”  It seems normative when we should be disgusted…and appalled!!!

How is it that we allow problems like this to be “normal?”   How is it that we allow ourselves to become used to obesity, racism, poverty, or murder?  How is it that we so often set aside what we know is the right thing to do, and instead, do the comfortable thing.  Why do we allow ourselves to become comfortable with destructive behaviors when we should. instead, be appalled?  Why is it that we would ignore a problem when we should begin re-educating ourselves and our community?

My weight crept up on me.  I ignored the signs of unhealthiness and, even after a stern talk from my doctor, I ignored the problem.  It wasn’t until I had a supportive wife who pushed me and who insisted that I learn and grow (shrink, actually 🙂 that I began to be appalled by the things I had been eating.  If I eat too much grease, now, I feel sick to my stomach- and when I see people standing in lines at walmart with carts filled to the brim with junk food I recoil, even though that was recently me.  Why?  Because I looked at the problem through a new lens, I allowed myself to “get outside” of where I had recently stood and I began to look at myself with a more objective eye.  I began to realize that whether I was “used to it” or not, it was wrong and bad and hurtful:  Hurtful to myself and hurtful to others.

We have become desensitized to any number of troubles in this world.  We have chosen to think of them as normal or usual when we should be appalled.  This is where church is ultimately important.  We are a community and, just as my wife pressed me until I joined Weight-Watchers, good church people must press one another to look at injustice and oppression in this world, learn to “feel” the problem, educate one another and the community, and find a way to act out and improve the situation.

Most importantly, we must not act in judgement or hate, but in love and grace because that is the kind of God we follow.  We have a God who is ready to accept us and work with us no matter how fat we get, how complacent we become, or even how uncaring.  Our God doesn’t, from what I read of the Bible, dwell upon our short-comings, but our God encourages us to grow in love, joy, forgiveness, mercy, and peace.  My wife exemplified that as she encouraged me towards loving and respecting my body.  She regularly helps me grow in acting for justice and showing mercy when she introduces me to any number of concerns in this world (even though I am sometimes reluctant to listen when it makes me uncomfortable or challenges my old ways of thinking), and she shows me love and forgiveness any number of times a day when I act like an idiot with her.

We don’t have to be spouses to play this role for one another.  I pray that all of us will take a moment to look at ourselves and the people around us with new eyes.  I pray that we will surround one another in community and find do-able steps so that we can act out in faith to re-order this world and grow the people and communities around us so that we will leave this world healthier, happier and more faithful!

blessings and peace,
Scott

The Power of Prayer

Tonight we were watching the movie Stranger Than Fiction.  There is a part of the movie where the narrator says, about Harold Crick, “Harold’s life was filled with moments both significant and mundane, but to Harold, those moments remained entirely indistinguishable, until this moment….”  Significant moments are like that, aren’t they.  Things like surgeries, weddings and births are moments we expect and plan for, yet the extraordinary can’t be planned for.

My wife and I planned our wedding down to the smallest details, yet when I looked into my new bride’s eyes the moment caught me off-guard and filled me with a joy I could not have expected.  I imagine that it is much the same with an expectant parent who has planned the route to the hospital and has a bag packed, but the first moment of holding your child is a moment that knocks you off your feet and makes grown men cry.

An extraordinary moment occurred for me yesterday.  It was in the midst of the mundane and unexpected.  I stopped by the church to finish up a few things.  I had walked in and out of the office at least twice never paying any attention to an innocuous piece of paper on the counter.  Finally my bag was packed, my work was done and I was on my way out the office.  I had walked well-past that piece of paper with names upon it and I would never have seen it, except by chance.

Cheryl, our administrative assistant, called out after me, “Oh, Scott, wait.  I still need [someone]’s phone number.”  I turned and pulled out my cell phone giving her the number and just happened to glance down.  There on the counter top was a piece of paper with names all over it.  At the top it had my name and said “Prayer Vigil.”  Had I been thinking of it or had I been watching the list grow I might not have given it a second thought, but in an unsuspecting moment I was thrown off my feet.  I stared at it and needed a moment before I spoke in disbelief, “This is for me.”  For a moment I thought I might cry as I found myself overwhelmed by this outpouring of love and support.

What prayer will do cannot be known.  It is mysterious that way.  Yet, I know that prayer has very real power.  Yesterday prayer filled me with peace, hope and joy.  Prayer brings communities together and, I believe, helps us to see where God is leading us- when we take time to listen and watch.  And, most importantly, prayer draws us closer to God and helps us make sense of what God is doing in this world.

My sincere hope is that we would not just pray when we see something big headed our way (something we can plan for), but that we would find time for God in the mundane moments of life.  That we wouldn’t just pray in advance of a surgery or impending trouble, but that we would pray in a way that makes us more familiar with God and opens us up to those extraordinary moments when God will knock us over with peace, love and joy.