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JOHN STOTT

I suppose I suprize no one when I confess that I am not an Evangelical. That is not to suggest that I am not evangelical. I am gobsmacked when I hear Episcopalians state that numbers aren’t important or that Christians shouldn’t seek to convert non believers. How do they think they have a church in which to worship or a faith to espouse? When Americans crossed the eastern mountains and began to spread across this vast landmass, it was the commitment of believers which Christianized new settlements. Granted the different name brands of Christianity or their adherents first sought their own and set up a church on every corner.  Yet many, even most of the pioneers which possessed the land, left behind them adherence to organized Christianity. The tale is told over and over again of families once “churched” whose children left behind the faith of their ancestors. True many read the Bible, but that was as far as it went. These people were evangelized by those who retained allegiance to “organized religion”. And so for generations the new America of the frontier became, at least for w period,  a Christian nation. Even those who embraced no church, like Abraham Lincoln, were haunted by and inspired by a biblical worldview.

 

The America of the early nineteenth century, only sporadically churched transformed into a land where the church in its baffling diverse “denominational”  structure swiftly established itself. Certainly this diversity contrasted sharply with European Christianity where national churches, Roman Catholic, Protestant or Anglican claimed the devotion of the many. Yet there was a certain vigor in such diversity. The downside was that evangelism often transformed itself into a method by which competing denominations grew, apart from the normal allegiance of families to their churches, into a process of a form of free market economy in which rival church memberships sought to evangelize each other. Episcopalians relied on this process, attracting those who sought its worship forms after leaving their own religious heritage behind. That evangelistic method grew to be  paramount in Episcopalian church growth and evangelism. Sheep stealing possessed the Episcopal imagination. It remains entrenched in our imagination. Our web sites predicate outreach in terms of locating and attracting floating people who might rather like the way we worship, or recently our espousal of progressive causes.

 

Our larger and growing parishes, liberal or traditional have grown by attracting those who discover in their midst something lacking in their former church homes. Secure in their numerical and economic success, many decry the old methods of sheep stealing while continuing to expand by that very process. Disaffected Roman Catholics and Southern Baptists discover a place where they feel secure and happy. Our national church peddles the wares of liberalism and suggests a churchly fortress available to the like-minded, while traditionalists peddle the wares of conservatism and suggest a churchly fortress available to the like-minded.

 

These methods are just nineteenth century free market approaches to Christianity tweaked to take into account the polarity of contemporary American life. The death of John Stott underlies this scenario. Stott emerged from an old fashioned Anglican Evangelical conversion to personal faith in Jesus into a prophet who realized that mere Christianity is much more than the preservation of a particular church party. He obviously remained an Anglican Evangelical, but he gradually became convinced that the Gospel was more than sheep-stealing or shoring up a particular brand of religious expression. For Stott the Gospel was not merely about saving souls or converting people to Evangelicalism. He became a churchman, and one who saw evangelism in great breadth, the telling of the Story which included Jesus’s commitment to economic and social justice, to “ecology”, to churchmanship, and to a lively and converting faith in Jesus as Lord. He distanced himself from schismatic alternatives while taking very seriously the plight of an Anglicanism shorn of biblical faith and practice. His quiet, kind, and open approach placed him above the fray of church politics and remarkably above the fanaticism of right and left, despite the fact that he decried the introversion of much Evangelical thought and the powerlessness of those who affirm “justice” while ignoring conversion to Jesus and His saving grace.

 

Stott’s evangelicalism was that of John Newton, William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury, in an understanding that genuine Christianity champions the poor and the outcast and tackles both spiritual and social neediness not as separate dimensions but in the wholeness of both.

 

And the field of evangelism has taken a step backwards in time. In the West the mission field is not the supposed deficiencies of this or that denomination anymore, tackled by peddling sectarian wares to floating Christians. More and more, like the early 19th Century West, it is a field peopled by those who perhaps preserve some God-awareness, but for whom the churches are remote clubs practicing rites which, to them, the unchurched, have no earthly practical utility in living life. In such a scene, the churches are called to offer a Living Jesus and the claims he makes for himself as he who came to die and rise again to make all things new. John Stott’s voice was silenced as he listened to Handel’s Messiah. He then met the Messiah and now calls us all to own Jesus as Lord and Savior and to tell of his coming, dying, rising and ascending work, his care for the poor, the ill, the disadvantaged, the disowned to a needy, polarized, dysfunctional world. He calls us out of our holy clubs into the world which surrounds them. He calls us to holistic evangelism and to learn the means of winsome evangelism. I pray Stott’s vision will become that of the church.

VERY MINOR SURGERY

Up this morning at 4.00am. Fr. Frank drove me to Chicago. We arrived before the crowd and I was shortly in out patient surgery. After a couple of attempts an IV was established, something good infused and the next thing I knew I was waking up in recovery. The nurses were all very kind and in good humor.

 

I was then wheeled to the 10th floor cancer unit and taken to the place where people get chemotherapy. After a mix up about my date of birth on the meds -they made me twenty years younger; fine with me – the injections arrived. A swift jab in my tummy began the first of five injections. I was given syringes with four doses which my Junior Warden, an RN, will jab me with at 7.00am each morning. Frank and I then drove to an Italian eatery where I revived myself with soup and a lovely sandwich. We then drove back to La Porte avoiding the rush hour traffic. We made the journey in just over an hour. After a short nap I made tea and am now relaxing in my chair. My Senior Warden, Margie Bender has brought dinner for me. Hooray!

 

I am delighted with the attitude of the nurses and staff at Rush University Hospital, which began its life as St Luke’s Episcopal Hospital back in the days when our church was thriving and could afford to run such places.

 

The site where the port was inserted is a little sore but not too painful. Thanks to all who have responded to my blogs on Facebook. I feel surrounded by so many friends who are praying for me and cheering me on. Now i get myself ready to return to Chicago on Monday, to stay at the Holiday Inn near the hospital for a few days while they harvest my cells. Mercifully insurance will pay for the motel, meals and taxis to and from the hospital. I will be on my own for all that.

GETTING THROUGH

Part of my time at Rush University Hospital in Chicago on Monday was spent having a psycho-social evaluation. The young and delightful Ph.D who interviewed me asked how I would get through all that follows. I answered “my faith.” Now by that I did not suggest that I feel or think that God has singled me out for special treatment. Of course that might be true. Women and men have been so “elected” since the beginning of time. But rather like pretensions to the prophetic charism, the suggestion is best left alone except perhaps in the judgement of others! Rather, my faith enables me to suggest that God includes me in his love, despite myself, my sins and failings, and thus in the company of the faithful, who no one may number or identify. God knows. Whatever happens, God is and therefore I am. If I am wrong, when I draw my last breath I won’t even have the luxury of admitting my “foolishness”. But I am sure that I am not wrong.

Now I don’t base this conviction on such thoughts as regarding life itself as a cruel joke if there is nothing beyond. I’ve made my fair share of ridiculous decisions and wretched actions, but I’ve also experienced great beauty and the marvels of forgiving love from those I’ve hurt and disappointed. There’s beauty in that too, a beauty worth living for. Music, literature, architecture (some of it!), friendship, laughter make life worth living and worth the living. So even if the way we regard life is diminished terribly if we have no belief, it would be still worth it. Even people who experience lives the rest of us might regard as hopeless, dismal and tragic, recognize that living it is somehow important. True some give up, just can’t hang on anymore, and that is a state which should draw from us all our empathy.

So I have no time for sentimental piety which views this life as a vale of tears and the next as glory. There’s truth in both ideas of course. I believe that this life is as much in God’s purpose for us as the next. I like that line in Rite 2’s absolution of sin, which ends “and keep you in eternal life.” I believe strongly that we get it wrong when we draw a great distinction between life now and life then. After Baptism, there’s only one life, my life by the Spirit, through Christ, in the Father.

I’ve never thought that Heaven is a state of being far far away, or espoused Reformation ideas which cut us off from daily intimate relationship with the Church Eternal. This belief isn’t for me solely intellectual. When I pray and particularly at the Eucharist, I experience fellowship. There’s nothing spooky or esoteric about it. I just feel it.

Four years ago I was dying of pleural pneumonia. I began to smell Condor pipe tobacco in my hospital room. Condor isn’t sold in the US and I am not sure it is sold in England anymore. Only two people in my life who were close to me smoked that dark, strong tobacco, bought in a block, cut off and rubbed before inserting in the pipe. One was my maternal Grandfather, Walter Clarkson, a retired coal mine “deputy’ or foreman and the other his brother in law, Harry Graham, also a retired coal miner. They lived in a row of houses on New Street in Worsborough Dale, Yorkshire. They bought the houses in 1912 for five hundred pounds each. Both were gentle men and both loved me dearly. Their wives, sisters, were formidable little women with sharp tongues, best avoided when they were on the rampage. When I smelled that familiar tobacco in my hospital room in West Virginia I knew that these men still loved me although they both died when I was in my twenties. Like a majority of working class north Britons, these men were unchurched, except for baptisms, weddings and funerals, as were their forensically Roman Catholic wives. I know that God has forgiven that omission in their lives. Neither disbelieved. Church was for their “betters.”

Each evening, before going to sleep, I pray for those I have met during the day, and then for my family and relatives by name, my colleagues and friends come next and finally I get to the departed, for whom I pray and whose prayers I ask for. Included are my parents, uncles and aunts, a growing number of cousins, my grandparents, great uncles and aunts, and also some priests and one or two bishops who have helped me along the way. I tell you this not to blow my spiritual trumpet; far from it. But, you see, I’m not suggesting that these people need “saving”, but as they love me, I love them too. True I’ve known a few people, mostly church people but others notable atheists who did not seem to be able to flinch at hurting others. I can’t judge them although I can lament their actions. But the state and quality of their future, even if they elect to live apart from God willfully and cruelly, is God’s business. Love can’t abide unlovingness, that’s what judgement eventually means, but God is that love, that judge. Is there Hell? Here and Jesus taught “there” too. But a faith that delights in that distinction is a depleted one and I think God will eventually give harsh people, particularly harsh Christians, a taste of their own medicine, even if only for a terrible moment at their end/beginning.

Perhaps it is because I am now “old”, but those we number in the Communion of Saints are my companions, and that is not merely those who get in stained glass windows with dinner plates behind their heads, but all the faithful departed, those in whom God has faith, to whom was given faith, who lived faithfully as best they could and who touched others, often unconsciously, with a love beyond themselves and their capabilities. Because this is true for me and I hope for you, this life is worth living because ordinary beauty “in God” takes upon itself a quality which does not depend on our receptive mood, but which illuminates even our “down” periods.

So I face what now begins when the port is inserted in my vein tomorrow knowing that I have the thoughts and prayers of so many of you, for which I am so grateful and humbled, the prayers of the greater Church which surrounds me and as a penitent by grace in communion with God through the coming, passion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus my King.

MY TRANSPLANT

I hope, as energy permits, to blog about my stem cell transplant and its aftermath. I’m sure what I write won’t be as fascinating as church politics but merely writing it all down will help me even if it doesn’t do much for you gentle reader.

There is no cure for my rare form of cancer, but what now begins may give me a few more years before the disease returns. While I have no claim to immortality, at least on this planet, I have a few more things I would like to do before I “chuck in my clogs” as they say where I come from. The doctors seem to think that apart from my frail bones, I am a young 71 year old. Yesterday while at Rush University Hospital in Chicago for Dopler tests on kidneys and available veins to insert the device from which cells will be harvested and drugs inserted, the psychiatrist also informed me that I was “young” for my age. Perhaps she was suggesting that I’ve entered my second childhood.

My good friend Fr. Frank Endres will drive me back to Rush this Thursday. At 6.00am I will have surgery to implant the port catheter and then have an injection  to mobilize stem cells into the blood stream for collection. Then we travel back home. The other drug I will be given seems to be an early riser. On Friday and thereafter until the cell harvesting is complete at 7.00am I will be injected in my abdomen with Neupogen. Both drugs come with the usual list of possible side effects. Reading these lists is probably worse than what will actually transpire.

Next Monday afternoon, August 1,  I check in to the Holiday Inn, West Harrison, Chicago, just over a mile from the hospital. The next morning Harvesting begins. This process may take up to four days, but could be over in a day. Mercifully the insurance company pays for the motel, meals and taxis to and from Rush. Once enough of my stem cells are harvested I return home to rest. The main challenge will be keeping the catheter clean and covered when I shower.

On August 8th I return to Rush to be admitted to the transplant unit, a special area of rooms with their own air circulation and other precautions against infection. Then comes a rather drastic course of chemotherapy which effectively destroys my immune system and any remaining cancer proteins, after which, in a few days, my cleaned up stem cells will be returned to me and we wait for my immune system to begin the process of recovery. I’m told that the worst period is just after the stem cells are returned when the effects of the chemotherapy become most obvious. We shall see. I should be in hospital for three weeks or so and then in quarantine at home until the end of October.

I will keep you all posted. In the meantime, do keep me in your prayers!