August 19 – Nicholas Black Elk

From the Bible

Read Acts 15:5-11

Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

About Black Elk

On this day in 1950, Oglala Lakota medicine man Black Elk died, at age 87.  He lived,  along with his cousin Crazy Horse, during the last days of the Indian Wars – witnessing both the defeat of Custer at Little Big Horn and later in life the massacre at Wounded Knee.  Black Elk was part of the first generation of Lakotas to be confined to reservations.  The extreme poverty and communal responsibility were factors that led him to both join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show internationally and agree to be interviewed for the book he is best known for, the much debated Black Elk Speaks by John Neihardt.  One of the major controversies with the work is the exclusion of Black Elk’s faith in Jesus and mission – as well as the withholding of payment for participation in the work.

As a medicine man, Black Elk had prepared to visit a dying boy in the village, only to encounter a Jesuit priest praying there first.  He encountered a power greater than his own, and accepted an invitation to spend time at the mission.  He was baptized Nicholas shortly after. As a Catholic Catechist (an often downplayed aspect of his life), he was widely considered an apostle to the plains Indians. Thousands of people were brought to the faith – both Indian and non-native, through his work and famous preaching.

His primary work was with new converts and as an evangelist alongside the priests — when priests were not available his duties included baptizing and burials.  His passion for Christ as the Creator and fulfiller of things drove him to vigorous and passionate study.  Nick thought that many of the Lakota spiritual traditions had come from God to teach them to live in a good way and that Christ made sense of all of it.  Many experts agree that his practice of the Christian faith, life, and mission were well-integrated with his worldview and practice as a Lakota.

One such integration is the change in the symbolism for the sun dance ceremony.  Traditionally, it was a time of fasting, prayer, and suffering in order to attain personal power for victory in battle.  It has become, and many credit Nicholas Black Elk for this shift, a ceremony of prayer and fasting on behalf of all the people – including enemies.  For Nick, it was a ceremony to remind the people of the suffering and death of Christ for all of creation.

Further Reading

Black Elk: Colonialism and Lakota Catholicism by Damian Costello

Short Article on his life and faith by Pat McNamera

August 16 – Charles Finney

From the Bible

Read 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.

About Charles Finney

One time someone brought a shotgun to on of Charles Finney’s revival meetings, intending to kill him. May you cause that kind of trouble as you defy the powers.

Some people might not think Finney fits into the “cloud of witnesses” that make up our respected spiritual ancestors. He was the “father of modern revivalism.” He was the forerunner of Billy Graham in the sense that he popularized the “altar call” and other tactics we find a bit too coercive or manipulative. But his demands for living a truly Christian life, his determination to get something going, and his presumption that people could live up to their radical calling, is right up our alley. He also was among the first to have women and African Americans participating in his meetings as equals with white men.  One story is that the alter call’s original purpose was to come forward to sign petitions to abolish slavery.

The zenith of Finney’s evangelistic career was in the 1830′s during the Second Great Awakening. In Rochester, New York, he preached 98 sermons that caused a ruckus.  Shopkeepers closed their businesses, posting notices urging people to attend Finney’s meetings. Reportedly, the population of the town increased by two-thirds during the revival, and crime dropped by two-thirds over the same period. After that, he began an almost continuous revival in New York City as minister of the Second Free Presbyterian Church. In 1834, he moved into the huge Broadway Tabernacle his followers had built for him. He stayed there for only a year, leaving to pastor Oberlin Congregation Church in Ohio, and to teach theology at Oberlin College. In 1851, he was appointed president, which gave him a new forum to advocate social reforms he championed, especially abolition of slavery. Oberlin College, under his leadership, was the first college to admit woman and blacks to be educated with white men.

Finney married evangelism together with social reform, the New Testament evangelist with the Old Testament prophet, piety with radicalism, and conversion with a subsequent commitment to radical social reform.  He got people talking and acting. He was not content with them simply receiving or consuming.  His commitment to Jesus meant taking care of the poor and the needy, and his deep commitment to social reform was seen in the radicalism of Oberlin College and in his major push to end slavery.  Those he inspired continued to take risks in order to relate to each other and change the world.

Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together. Never do they love one another so well as when they witness the outpouring of each other’s hearts in prayer.”

August 11 – Clare of Assissi

From the Bible

Read Philippians 3:17-21

Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.

About Clare

Today we celebrate Clare of Assisi.  She was one of the first women to follow the example of Saint Francis and ultimately she founded the Order of the Poor Ladies, a monastic religious order for women in the Franciscan tradition.  She wrote the Poor Ladies Rule of Life – the first monastic rule known to have been written by a woman. Following her death, the order she founded was renamed in her honor as the Order of Saint Clare, commonly referred to today as the Poor Clares.

The story goes: When Clare was 18, Francis of Assisi came to preach in the church of San Giorgio at Assisi. Inspired by his words, Clare asked Francis to help her in dedicating her life to God, and he vowed to do so. The following year (1211), Clare’s parents chose a wealthy young man for Clare to marry, but she pointedly refused, fleeing soon after for the Porziuncola Chapel, where Francis received her. She took vows dedicating her life to God, and that moment, occurring on March 20, 1212, marked the beginning of the Second Order of St. Francis. [Want more? link]

Clare once wrote: We become what we love and who we love shapes what we become. If we love things, we become a thing. If we love nothing, we become nothing. Imitation is not a literal mimicking of Christ, rather it means becoming the image of the beloved, an image disclosed through transformation. This means we are to become vessels of God´s compassionate love for others.

If we can go with her, we can do some great work in the world!

July 31 – Ignatius of Loyola

From the Bible

Read Luke 15:1-6

On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.  Just then, in front of him, there was a man who had dropsy.  And Jesus asked the lawyers and Pharisees, “Is it lawful to cure people on the sabbath, or not?”  But they were silent. So Jesus took him and healed him, and sent him away.  Then he said to them, “If one of you has a child or an ox that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on a sabbath day?”  And they could not reply to this.

About Ignatius

“Act as if everything depended on you; trust as if everything depended on God.”

“Go forth and set the world on fire.”  (Ignatius of Loyola)

The quotes above from Ignatius of Loyola are among his most famous and they sum up the practicality and ambition that he lived out after his conversion to Christianity. Those of us who are Protestants probably haven’t been given much information about Ignatius because he was a strong opponent of the Reformation in the 1500s and vigorously supported (some would argue blindly) the hierarchy of the Catholic Church at the time. None of us gets everything right and this lasting division of the Church has proven itself to be deeply problematic for centuries. Much is lost if we refuse to listen to one another. Ignatius became a powerful leader in the Church of his day and was the founder of the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits. His writings have become a wonderful guide to many who seek Jesus. He was a devoted follower who took his early experiences as a soldier prior to his conversion and applied all the good lessons he learned to the work of discipleship. His Spiritual Exercises is a 200 page text designed to be simple and helpful to people who desire to find God everywhere. We celebrate his Saint’s Day on July 31, the day he died in 1556.

Nice spirituality site with extensive biography resources: [link]

July 11 – Benedict of Nursia

From the Bible

Read 1 Peter 3:8-9

Finally, all of you, have unity of spirit, sympathy, love for one another, a tender heart, and a humble mind.  Do not repay evil for evil or abuse for abuse; but, on the contrary, repay with a blessing. It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.

benedict-icon-full1About Benedict of Nursia

Benedict of Nursia (c. 480-547?)  was born in North Central Italy (the Umbria province) when the Asian hordes were pulling much of the region back into violence with their war and pillaging.  His  biographer, St. Gregory the Great, pope from 590 to 604, does not record  the dates of his birth and death, though he refers to a  Rule written by  Benedict.  According to  Gregory’s Dialogues Benedict’s parents sent him to Rome for classical studies but he found the life of the city too degenerate  for his tastes.  Consequently he fled to a place southeast of Rome called  Subiaco where he lived as a hermit. There he was then discovered by a group of monks who prevailed upon him to become their spiritual leader. His rule soon became too much for the lukewarm monks so they plotted to poison him. Gregory recounts the tale of Benedict’s rescue; when he blessed the pitcher of poisoned wine, it broke into many pieces.

Benedict left the wayward monks and established twelve monasteries with  twelve monks each in the area south of Rome.  Later, perhaps in 529, he moved to Monte Cassino, about eighty miles  southeast of Rome; there he destroyed the pagan temple dedicated to Apollo and built his premier monastery.  It was there too  that he wrote the Rule for the monastery of Monte Cassino, though he  envisioned that it could be used elsewhere. Gregory presents Benedict  as the model of a saint who flees temptation to pursue a life of attention to God. Through a balanced pattern of living  and praying Benedict reached the point where he glimpsed the glory of God.   Gregory recounts a vision that Benedict received toward the end of his  life:  In the dead of night he suddenly beheld a flood of light shining down from above more brilliant than the sun, and with it every  trace of darkness cleared away.  According to his own description, the  whole world was gathered up before his eyes “in what appeared to be a  single ray of light” (ch. 34).  St. Benedict, the monk par excellence,  led a monastic life that reached the vision of God.

Benedict is considered to be the father of Western Monasticism – a few centuries after Monasticism began in Egypt, Asia Minor, and Palestine.  His genius was to put the forms of the East into an accessible format that was warm and flexible. He was mostly the leader of a community, not a scholar.  The Rule is  the sole known example of Benedict’s writing, but it shows his genius to crystallize the best of the monastic tradition and to pass it on to Europe. The Benedictine vows are basically “obedience, stability, and conversion of life.”  He helped formalize a movement of the Spirit into “a school of the Lord’s service, in which we hope to order nothing harsh or rigorous.” These “schools” that soon dotted Europe were centers of light and stability for centuries. Benedict, and the subsequent monks in his tradition, are known for both prayer and labor (ora et labora).

Some of the stories about Benedict told by Gregory can be found here [link].

Quotes:

The first degree of humility is prompt obedience.

Listen and attend with the ear of your heart.

Prayer ought to be short and pure, unless it be prolonged by the inspiration of Divine grace

More on Benedict of Nursia:

Catholic Encyclopedia [link]

Christianity Today [link]

Order of St. Benedict [link]

July 6 — Jan Hus

From the Bible

Read Matthew 10:16-31

On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles.  But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say

Hus Memorial -- Prague

Hus Memorial — Prague

About Jan Hus

Jan Hus was born in Bohemia (now part of the Czech Republic) in about 1371. By 1400 he was a priest and about to become part of the University in Prague.

He helped launch a vigorous reform of the church in a particularly difficult time in Europe’s history. It was in the middle of what is known as the Great Schism. The King of France moved the seat of the Papacy from Rome to Avignon. Rival popes were elected. Sides were taken and battles were fought. The Council of Constance from 1414 to 1418 was called to solve the issue.

In the middle of this Jan Hus denounced various church practices in his sermons, taking his lead from the famous John Wycliffe of England (the ‘morning star of the Reformation”). For instance, Hus thought it was unbiblical for the wine of communion to be reserved for the priest. He whole-heartedly accepted the practice of the church worshipping in the Czech language, rather than in Latin. He argued that “laypeople” had an important role to play in the administration of the Church and that Christ was the true head of the Church, not the Pope. He thought church officials should not be earthly governors.

After the death of Pope Alexander V (an antipope), a crusade against the practices of granting indulgences started, of which Hus was also a part. He produced writings that are said to be directly taken from Wycliffe’s writings, notably: De ecclesia (The Church). In them he argued that no Pope or Bishop had the right to raise a sword in the name of Church. He insisted that people attained forgiveness only by repentance, not Papal indulgence. His followers publicly burned Papal communiques (“bulls”) and believed that Hus’ sayings should be followed, to rather than those of the Church hierarchy. As a result, in 1412 Jan Hus was excommunicated for insubordination.

Diebold Schilling's Spiezer Chronik (1485)

Diebold Schilling’s Spiezer Chronik (1485)

In 1414 he was summoned to the Council of Constance, with the Emperor guaranteeing his personal safety even if found guilty. He was tried, and ordered to recant certain heretical doctrines. He replied that he had never held or taught the doctrines in question, and was willing to declare the doctrines false, but not willing to declare on oath that he had once taught them. The one point on which Hus could be said to have a doctrinal difference with the Council was that he taught that the office of the pope did not exist by God’s command, but was established by the Church so that things might be done in an orderly fashion. The Council, having just narrowly succeeded in uniting Western Christendom under a single pope after years of chaos, was not about to have its work undone. So it found him guilty of heresy, and he was burned at the stake on July 6, 1415.

Hus’ approach to being the church was human, Bible centered, and spiritual.  To partisans on both sides of the Schism, his views seemed idealistic at best, and at worst a dreamy anarchism or heresy. Throughout all the controversy that followed his teaching he maintained a creative loyalty to the church while challenging its pathologies. His death helped give birth to the Moravian Church. That group held the light out for his prophecy to be fulfilled: it is claimed that he said, “In one hundred years, God will raise up a man whose calls for reform cannot be suppressed.” In 1517, Martin Luther nailed his famous “Ninety-five Theses of Contention” to the church door in Wittenberg. Before he died in flames, Hus is said to have stated: “It is better to die well than to live wickedly … Truth conquers all things.”

More on Hus? http://www.tlogical.net/biohuss.htm

June 18 – Vernard Eller

From the Bible

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.

About Vernard Eller

Vernard Eller (died this day in 2007) was an Anabaptist scholar, author, and teacher during some of the 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 on 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,” 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

More on Vernard Eller:

A Christianity Today post the week after his death [link]

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

Wikipedia article for Christian Anarchism [link]