a bit monkish.
You make me wonder, little leaf
Why you aren’t on the ground.
Your friends lie scattered far below.
You aimed for Jesus’ mouth.
All summer long you flew above
The earth and all below.
You danced in choreography
When warming winds would blow
When Southern winds came from the North
And nights outlasted days,
Then one by one your friends would fall
But did they sing God’s praise?
So did they teach you where to fall
In playful, swirling swings?
Your friends were waiting far below
Your mind was on holy things.
If I could fall just like that leaf
And land wherever I pleased
Would I choose the loving lips of him
Who spoke to the least of these?
Lord, make me like this little leaf
Who chose the better way.
If my heart ever landed far below
I fear it would decay.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts
I began my discovery of Cistercian spirituality more than a quarter of a century ago. It’s been at the heart of two doctorates and a lifestyle of simplicity and contemplation in the world. About eight years ago I made a formal commitment to live the Cistercian charism beyond the walls of the monastery when I became a Lay Cistercian of Gethsemani Abbey. Rather than becoming a conflict with my deeply-held Wesleyan convictions, my Cistercian journey has actually deepened my Wesleyan commitments, particularly in Wesley’s focus on the Means of Grace and their relationship with personal and social holiness.
When I gather with the other Lay Cistercians and monks at the abbey once a month, I feel one with them. We have common interests in Christian spirituality. We have the same commitments to the same Trinitarian Godhead. We’re striving to live lives of holiness. We pray for one another, encourage one another in our faith, and embrace each other in friendship.
However, when I attend mass, I feel completely alone in a room full of people. It’s as if I’m not part of the Body of Christ. I’m not a member of the one True Church. This is because the priests can’t share the Body and Blood of Christ with me.
I know the priests would serve me if I went forward and made an altar with my hands. Yet out of respect for their tradition and teachings, I don’t ask. Instead, I cross my arms against my chest like someone out of a state of grace, and ask for a blessing. I’m thankful and deeply moved to receive this blessing from two Cistercian priests. However, the process makes me feel as if I’m not worthy to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. I believe without a doubt that Christ is present in these two elements. While my focus is on a spiritual presence more than on a physical one, His presence is definitely real to me.
In times of fellowship and study, the Gethsemani monks refer to me as “brother,” yet because of their ecclesial laws they are unable to share with me the most intimate expression and celebration of Christ and Christian fraternity. Mass at the abbey reminds me that I’m more of a step-brother in Christ rather than a true brother in Christ.
My heart weeps of the divide in God’s people and I longingly pray for a day when we may be one Church. Until then, I continue to cherish the daily office in unity with the Gethsemani community and I strive to unite holiness of heart and life as a witness to the world.
In necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas.
These thoughts aren't written well and I almost didn't post them. Attempting to summarize the impact of a giant on one's life in 650 words is a laughable endeavor. However, to take the words of a great man out of context, "Here I stand, I can do no other."
When I was 8, I saw him as an immoveable rock; a super hero in whom I could trust - even though physically he didn’t look like one due to his polio-stricken legs.
When I was 10, he was a prophet who spoke on behalf of God about my future, telling me during a Saturday catechism class not to make any career plans because God had already chosen me to be a pastor one day.
By the time I was 12, he had already been my first seminary professor for two years, offering advice and wise tips about how pastors should deal with opinionated people and difficult situations. Even though I didn’t think I had any gifts or graces to be a pastor, if Pastor Ed said I could do it, I trusted him.
When my immediate family was falling apart, he became a source of stability and strength, allowing me to stay with his family (and my friend James, his youngest son) for a couple of weeks at a time. Actually, the entire family accepted me and allowed me to be part of their madcap life.
This week, Pastor Edgar Homrighausen rested from his many years of fruitful labors and entered eternity with God. I’m thankful his 90+ year-old body is no longer laboring, but I’m finding it difficult to process his death. My lifelong mentor and pastor is now gone in the same week I begin life not as a parish pastor but as a seminary professor (I’m trying not to read too much into that).
There’s no way I can recall the many times his wisdom came back to my memory when I’ve faced pastoral issues throughout the years. Three years ago, for example, our church helped someone who had a mental illness. We welcomed her, I baptized her, we supported her financially, and then one day she showed up to my church office in a maniacal state. As I received her curses and threats, I remembered a conversation from long ago.
“See that woman in that pew back there?” Pastor Ed asked me when I was about 11, “She’s crazy. She was yelling and screaming at me earlier. She said she’s going to kill me.”
“Are you scared?” I asked.
“Nah! She won’t touch me. Remember that people always lash out at the ones they love the most.”
I told the screaming woman in my church office that if she couldn’t calm down, I wasn’t going to listen to her. “I’m not going to pay attention to you while you’re acting like that. Come back tomorrow if you want to.” To my surprise, she turned around and left the building. Thanks, Pastor Ed.
From dealing with disruptive people, to preaching with uncompromising boldness, to standing for what is right even if the denominational leaders didn’t like it, to dozens of other life and ministry lessons, I’m just realizing that Pastor Ed’s ministry has served as a model for my own ministry vocation. I pray I've been able to have a tenth of the impact on other people that he had. Then again, there will never be another Pastor Ed Homrighausen.
This is a bold statement, but I cannot imagine where my life would have ended up had Pastor Ed not been in it when I was a child. I am merely one of hundreds of people he mentored throughout the years. And although I haven't seen him in a decade, knowing that he’s not breathing the same air that I am anymore makes me feel just a little bit alone. However, what warms my heart is that after being a faithful servant of God, Pastor Ed has entered a place he's preached and taught about for at least 75 years, and his frail body has now been made whole.
Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Now get out of that wheelchair… and run.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts
How different is "Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!" from "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, Hosanna in the highest!" How different is "The King of Israel!" from "We have no King but Caesar!" How unlike one another are green branches and the cross, flowers and thorns! See how the one before home the garments of others were spread is stripped of his own, and lots are cast for them. How bitter to you are our sins [O Lord], which need such bitterness to wash them away!
— Bernard of Clairvaux, “Palm Sunday: Sermon Two”
It's amazing to think how the same crowds who praised Jesus on Sunday could be shouting for his death on Friday. Were the people so fickle and simple of mind that they could be swayed from praising Jesus to cursing him in just a matter of days? History hasn’t been kind to these Jerusalem crowds. Some have claimed they only cheered for winners, and when Jesus was arrested, they didn’t want to be linked with a loser and face the wrath of the religious leaders themselves. Others contend that the core of the mob’s change of heart was in their misunderstanding of Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God.
In his second Palm Sunday sermon, Bernard of Clairvaux offers that the differences between Sunday and Friday can be summed up in one word: sin. Jesus’ procession into Jerusalem was actually a demonstration of the people's the need for his Jerusalem arrival. Their cheers turned to jeers because sin was competing with godliness for the rule of their hearts.
It’s easy to look back at these crowds and condemn them. Yet this inner heart battle is as alive in the world - the Church! - today as it was in first-century Jerusalem. How easy it is for us to worship God on Sunday morning and then mistreat our Sunday lunch server because she forgot to remove the onions from our burger. How easy it is for us to say we can't work with the children or youth at the church because we're too tired. The same battle that existed in the hearts of the Jerusalem crowds is a battle that lives inside many of us who claim Jesus as our Savior and Lord.
Perhaps we too misunderstand Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God. Our misconception may come not from an expectation that Jesus will overthrow an oppressive government. Instead, I wonder if North America’s misunderstanding of the Kingdom of God is that we expect it to offer convenience. In another sermon, Bernard stresses that Jesus didn’t suffer to relieve us of suffering. He suffered so we might share in his suffering. The Christian life isn’t about what we want, or deserve, or about what rights we have. It’s about forsaking our life so we might live completely for Jesus in authenticity and consistency.
The heart-battle is over and Jesus has won. This is the essence of holiness.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts
after reading 1 John 1:1
The greatest voice I never heard
Is the voice I love the most.
For from this voice the mountains rose
We call this voice The Word.
How did He sound when teaching truth
Or when He was moved to cry?
Or when he scolded priestly ones
Or when He blessed the youth?
This greatest voice I never heard
Once cried out loud in pain.
Through sweat and blood and many tears,
My life with Him secured.
One day of joy He did reveal
To those who loved Him most.
He rose from death forevermore.
The voice they heard was real.
I know someday I will go home
To kneel and kiss his feet.
That greatest voice I never heard
Will speak to me.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts
It began innocently enough. Like millions of others, I discovered a new way to stay connected with friends and family who were separated by miles. They called it The Facebook, a new social media platform designed for 18+ year olds. Photos and later short videos allowed users to share their lives with the world, or at least their ‘friends.” Since then, it has grown to be one of the most popular social media platforms in the world for people of all ages, and a primary means of staying connected with people.
With all the angry, partisan bickering, targeted advertising, and tracking of user data, Facebook has become a nuisance to me. In my mind, however, I can’t leave. It’s as if I’m in Facebook prison. So many of my friends and family post to Facebook that if I don’t check in regularly, I feel like I’m missing out in their lives. Without even realizing it, many of us have made Facebook such a part of our lives that it’s becoming as essential to us as owning a cell phone.
Facebook has become a major source of clutter in my life. I have a difficult time sifting through what’s important and what’s the equivalent of junk mail. In some ways I feel trapped, but I must reluctantly give Facebook credit for their masterful process of sucking me in and slowing making them a necessary part of my life. Well done, you sneaky social media giant.
Several years ago, the movie The Truman Show depicted a man born on television and raised by actors in a fictional town. Even the sky, rain, and sunshine were manufactured. He never knew that his parents, siblings, and best friends were paid actors on the ultimate reality television show, and that millions of people watched his every move. He could have left at any time, but he was raised to believe that life outside of his town was a fearful place. He was in a virtual prison and he didn’t even know it.
Like Truman, although we have the capacity to leave Facebook, many of us fear what life would be like if we left. Our profile posts, photos, comments, and “likes” allow the Facebook Masters to track our interests, travels, and opinions, and to know minute details about our lives. Yet, like Truman’s manufactured life, we keep living in a false understanding that Facebook is reality, when instead it has become a prison to many of us who understand ourselves through it’s false narrative.
I’ve locked myself into Facebook Prison, and I hold the key to freedom. However, if I freed myself I’d be out of the lives of all the other incarcerated souls, many of whom have no idea that they’re imprisoned, too.
Here's a solution: Maybe we should all connect on Twitter or Instagram.
And the cycle continues.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts
It’s been unsettling to watch the news and peruse social media in recent weeks and months. Many people - including friends and acquaintances of mine - are angry, bitter, cynical, and spiteful. Some folks are upset because their candidate lost. Others are angry because their denomination is heading in a certain direction. Still other people are frustrated because the federal government isn’t addressing spiritual and/or Biblical issues.
I wonder if much of this negativity stems from the loss of a word that used to have significance in our culture. It’s a word that has fallen out of social fashion and has been deemed politically, socially, and spiritually incorrect. I’m referring to the word "boundaries".
A boundary is a dividing line. It’s a social, political, or spiritual demarcation that provides sometimes necessary space between people, nations, or beliefs. Boundaries distinguish variation or definition. Without them, we would have no order or differentiation.
When I’m at Gethsemani Abbey, I frequently see gates that read, “Monastic Area. Do not Enter.” I could have an attitude of “How dare they keep me out. I deserve to go in there.” It’s a boundary that, if I allowed it to, could invite cynicism and frustration to enter my heart. The signs are not for me, but for the monks. Their calling is to serve the world behind the walls. My calling is to serve the world outside the walls.
In the Old Testament, geographic boundaries were important, for they marked territory and national borderlines. In the New Testament, Jesus didn’t mark the Kingdom of God with a map, but with the heart: Citizens of His Kingdom should act and believe in ways that are contrary to those who are not citizens of the Kingdom of God. The Bible talks about distinctions between those who are holy and those who are not holy. If there are no differences between the beliefs and actions of God’s people and of those who are not God’s people, then what’s the point of living as children of God?
Many Christians in the United States are frustrated and downright angry at recent government policies they believe to be not consistent with Biblical teaching about welcoming strangers. Yet, according to the Bible, what is the role of the government? In Romans 13, Paul offers some insight as to one purpose of the government: It’s to keep peace and ensure the security of its citizens. We may be forgetting that a boundary exists between the role of the Church and the role of the government. History has shown that when this boundary is eroded, bad things happen - both politically and spiritually. Jesus acknowledged these differing roles, as well (e.g. Matthew 22:19-22). Christians should not expect the secular federal government to adhere to Christian ethical practices. Instead, we should live-out those ethics ourselves, serving as role-models in society (Colossians 3:17, 4:5-6).
As human beings, we need boundaries in our lives. We were created to understand distinctions between men and women, young and old, Christians and non-Christians, and even dog people and cat people. These distinctions bring identity and purpose to our lives. Any competent parent will attest to the truth that children need boundaries, as they instinctively long for accountability and rules. When young children do not have a set schedule, many times they will exhibit stress. Despite the demands of many adults for everything to be open and acceptable, our anthropological roots as human beings lead us to a longing for boundaries in ethics, morality, and belief. Without them, we - like children - can exhibit stress manifested as anger, bitterness, cynicism, and spite.
Healthy boundaries of all sorts are woven through the whole of Scripture because God created us to have them. As St. Augustine wrote in the early lines of The Confessions, “Our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” Without healthy boundaries in our lives, our hearts are anxious.
Let's be clear: boundaries are not about isolationism or segregation. Rather, boundaries center on identity and purpose. The monks behind the monastic walls are not completely isolated from the world, for gates exist in those walls. Boundaries, like the monastic walls, are healthy for Christians to shield us from the temptations of the world around us. When we knock down those walls, we expose our holy hearts to that which is not holy.
Those in our secular culture have anger in their hearts because they haven’t yet encountered the risen Christ. When Christians exhibit the same frustration and anger, we’re modeling the behaviors of pre-Christian people and we're tearing down an important boundary. May we never forget that we’re God’s people who have experienced the peace and love of Jesus Christ by the transforming power of the Holy Spirit. Let's live as people of truth, but also of love.
Unless, however, we understand those distinctions as unnecessary boundaries between people.
(c) 2017 Michael C. Voigts