Amazing Grace: The Story, Part One

A while back, son Joel posted the story behind Amazing Grace, adapted from an article by David Shepard:

Penned by John Newton, “Amazing Grace” is probably the most beloved hymn of the last two centuries. The soaring spiritual is estimated to be performed 10 million times annually and has appeared on over 11,000 albums.

Amazing Grace was referenced in Harriet Beecher Stone’s anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Stowe penned the final verse.

Amazing Grace had a surge of popularity during two of our nation’s greatest crises: the Civil War and the Vietnam War. Sung to many tunes through its long history, the current tune was adopted during America’s Second Great Awakening that began with the frontier camp meeting movement in 1801.

Joel wrote: If Father Newton could speak to us from heaven, he might say: My name is John Newton. I was born in 1725 in London. My Puritan mother died seven years later, my stern sea-captain father took me to sea at age 11. After many voyages and a reckless youth of drinking, I was conscripted into the British navy. After attempting to desert, I received eight dozen lashes and was reduced to the rank of common seaman.

I went on to serve on the Pegasus, a slave ship. I did not get along with the crew and they left me in West Africa with Amos Clowe, a slave trader. He gave me to his wife, Princess Peye, an African royal who treated me as vilely as she did her other slaves.

My father hired a sea captain to find me and bring me home. By some miracle he found me. During the voyage home, the ship was caught in a horrendous storm off the coast of Ireland and almost sank. I prayed to God, and the cargo miraculously shifted to fill a hole in the ship’s hull and the vessel drifted to safety. I took this as a sign from the Almighty and I now mark it as my conversion to Christianity. I did not radically change my ways at once; my total reformation was more gradual. “I did not consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.” I did begin reading the Bible and began to question my involvement in the slave trade.

Part Two next Hole News.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

One Last Battle

Fred was an old man with a rubber face. He had been a circus clown. He was poor, a volunteer at the St. Paul mission where Elsie and I worked during school years. Fred loved to sing. He was loud and close to pitch. We came to love Fred and his gentle wife Annie, a Mission chamber maid.

We finished seminary in 1947 and moved to North Central Wisconsin to serve two small rural churches. The following spring, we visited St. Paul and stopped by Mission, encountering Fred and Annie. On an impulse, I invited them to visit us some weekend. Fred would sing and tell his story. They rarely got out of town. We set a date.

Shortly after, word came that a debilitating illness had struck Fred, bringing intense pain. I phoned to relieve them of their commitment, Fred was disappointed. He said he would like to try. On the appointed weekend I picked them up in my ’28 Chevy. I could tell Fred was hurting. They spent Saturday night with us.

I was anxious for Fred Sunday morning as we walked to church. But as we walked, the old gospel warhorse experienced a miracle of God’s Grace. Pumped up by one last battle to fight with the Devil, Fred belted out old gospel songs and mesmerized the congregation with his story. There was no need for a sermon.

I drove them to St. Paul Sunday afternoon.Fred’s pain returned. Annie helped him up worn, dusty stairs to their small apartment.  Fred died not long after.

Memories!

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Power of Giving and Receiving, Part Two. (See below for Part One).

Trinitarian theology says that spiritual power is more circular or spiral, not so much hierarchical. It’s here; it’s within us. It’s shared and shareable; it’s already entirely for us and grounded within us. What hope this gives! “And hope does not disappoint because the love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). God’s Spirit is planted within us and operating as us! Don’t keep looking to the top of the pyramid. Stop idolizing the so-called “1 percent.” There’s nothing worthwhile up there that is not also down here. Worst of all, it has given 99 percent of the world an unnecessary and tragic inferiority complex.

Trinity shows that God’s power is not any kind of domination, threat, or coercion. If the Father does not dominate the Son, and the Son does not dominate the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit does not dominate the Father or the Son, then there’s no domination in God. All divine power is shared power and the letting go of autonomous power. This God is not seeking control, as we do, but handing on the power to the Other.

There’s no seeking of power over in the Trinity, but only power with—a giving away, a sharing, a letting go, and thus an infinity of trust and mutuality. This should have changed all Christian relationships: in marriage, in culture, in church, and across borders. The prophet Isaiah tried to teach such servanthood to Israel in the classic four “servant songs.” [1] He was trying to train them in being “light to all nations” (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6), but Hebrew history predicted what Christianity then repeated: human nature prefers kings, domination, wars, and empires instead of suffering servanthood or leveling love.

We all already have all the power (dynamis) we need both within us and between us—in fact, Jesus assures us that we are already “clothed” in it “from on high” (see Luke 24:49)! The Holy Spirit redefines power from the inside out and from the bottom up—just the opposite of most human cultures. This is why the Gospel is so seldom understood or lived.

I urge you to sign up for Richard Rohr’s Daily Mediations. Go to ttps://cac.org/sign-up/

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

The Power of Giving and Receiving

This is too good not to share but too long for one part. Mystic prophet Richard Rohr’s May 8 devotional shatters our tribal thinking on both the Scriptures and Jesus. Sadly, many will reject it out of  hand:

Christians will continually misinterpret and misuse Jesus if we don’t understand the circle dance of mutuality and communion that he participated in from all eternity (which we call “Christ”). Instead, we made Jesus into a monarchical “Christ the King,” a title he rejected in his lifetime (John 18:37), and we operate as if God’s interest in creation or humanity only began 2,000 years ago. Both Western and Eastern Christianity made the one who described himself as “meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29) into an imperial God. The Greek Zeus became the Latin Deus.

What if we actually surrendered to the inner Trinitarian flow and let it be our primary teacher? Our notion of society, politics, and authority—which is still top down and outside in—would utterly change. But circles are much more threatening than pyramids are, at least to empires, the wealthy, and the patriarchal system. Yet “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (2 Corinthians 13:13) was supposed to be our circular and all-inclusive ecology. This relational reality existed from the very beginning as revealed in the very first lines of the Bible. There we already have God (Creator), Christ (God made manifest as “light”), and Holy Spirit “hovering over the chaos” (see Genesis 1:1-3) to awaken it—which is still happening.

Part Two tomorrow

Old Grandpa Lloyd

The Thimble Gospel

There are folks who talk about getting saved as a poultice God slaps on your soul when you believe certain things in the right order—the plan of salvation. It’s a done deal; now get on with your life.

Nonsense! Salvation is a beginning, evidenced by new life. No beginning; no salvation. Protest all you want. If Salvation gives you only escape from Hell, you missed Jesus’s point. He offers moment-by-moment living in him.

That health/wealth stuff is baloney. Jesus died hurting, and dead broke; they stole even his clothes. But what glory lay ahead!

So with us. Only by dying to all self-reliance can know the glory of life in Christ. We serve God in ordinary places: sometimes on a trout stream, sometimes at a football game, sometimes in a sewing circle.

Many a hurting heart wears a thimble.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

One Step at a Time, Dear Jesus

I took a long look at myself today and phoned son-in-law Dale for help.  I do that often. Simple tasks once performed without thought now take long moments to plan. Move a box; hang my jacket: serious stuff. I had to call the girl from 313 to button my white shirt when I spiffed up for a wedding.

The Good Book says pride goeth before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall. I’m one fall away from who knows what. I ain’t the man I used to be; probably never was. But whatever I am, I’d like to hang around a while longer.

No more fuss. I’ve read the books, done the exercises, and suffered much under therapists. I work my fingers constantly.  Like Popeye the sailor man, I yam what I yam. I can still work my way down the hall for Jeopardy and supper with the girl from 313, but if I don’t make it to your party, please understand.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Scapegoating

Long, but worth reading.

On Palm Sunday, a day vital to the Easter story, I read this devotional by Richard Rohr, A renowned Franciscan priest whose writings I love. His views parallel my non-scholarly thoughts in many ways. He wrote:
The ingenious Hebrew ritual from which the word “scapegoat” originated is described in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement, a priest laid hands on an “escaping” goat, placing all the sins of the Jewish people from the previous year onto the animal. The goat was then beaten with reeds and thorns and driven out into the desert. It was a vividly symbolic act that helped to unite and free people in the short term. Instead of owning their sins, this ritual allows people to export them elsewhere—in this case onto an innocent animal.

French philosopher and historian René Girard (1923–2015) recognized this highly effective ritual across cultures and saw the scapegoat mechanism as a foundational principle for most social groups. The image of the scapegoat powerfully mirrors and reveals the universal, but largely unconscious, human need to transfer our guilt onto something or someone else by singling that other out for unmerited negative treatment. This pattern is seen in many facets of our society and our private, inner lives—so much so that we could almost name it “the sin of the world” (note that “sin” is singular in John 1:29). The biblical account, however, seems to recognize that only a “lamb of a God” can both reveal and resolve that sin in one nonviolent act.

We seldom consciously know that we are scapegoating or projecting. As Jesus said, people literally “do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In fact, the effectiveness of this mechanism depends on not seeing it! It’s automatic, ingrained, and unconscious. “She made me do it.” “He is guilty.” “He deserves it.” “They are the problem.” “They are evil.” We should recognize our own negativity and sinfulness, but instead we largely hate or blame almost anything else. Sadly, we often find the best cover for that projection in religion. God has been used to justify violence and hide from the parts of ourselves and our religions that we’d rather ignore. As Jesus said, “When anyone kills you, they will think they are doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2).

Unless scapegoating can be consciously seen and named through concrete rituals, owned mistakes, shadow work, or “repentance,” the pattern will usually remain unconscious and unchallenged. The Scriptures rightly call such ignorant hatred and killing “sin,” and Jesus came precisely to “take away” (John 1:29) our capacity to commit it—by exposing the lie for all to see. Jesus stood as the fully innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Jerusalem and Rome), an act that should create healthy suspicion about how wrong even the highest powers can be. “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (John 16:8).his is what Jesus is exposing and defeating on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.

Thank you Sir.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

 

Erik the Red

We called him Erik the Red. He was seven or eight. He showed up at our Anchorage mission church shortly after we arrived. I learned he was a church tramp, not by choice. Four congregations had booted him. Erik wasn’t mean, just hyper-active.

The first hint came when a Sunday school storyteller asked if any kid had ever heard a rooster. Erik gave us the most raucous rooster there ever was. He took to hanging around my study after school. To get him out of my hair one day, I gave him a handful of new pencils to sharpen. They came back four inches long.

We took on a Sunday school project for Lazy Mountain Children’s Home, inviting kids to contribute. They came with a dollar or two. Erik showed up with a fistful of bills. We phoned his dad. “Holy smoke!” he said, “I told him to take a dollar from my wallet and he cleaned me out!”  We kept a buck.

Then Erik disappeared. I learned his parents didn’t know what to do with him either. After some months, he showed up at a Sunday morning service. The sermon theme was personal salvation and I closed as I always did, offering to meet in my study after church with anyone who wanted to talk. At hand-shaking time, Erik tugged on my coat. He wanted to talk. A mite impatiently, I led him to the study and found him remarkably serious. He said he wanted to know about salvation.

I walked him through the formula and invited him to pray aloud. He received Jesus as Savior. He displayed no noticeable difference in the following weeks then disappeared again and I was called to another ministry assignment.

A year later I had occasion to visit Alaska and walked unannounced into my old Sunday school. There was Erik. He immediately latched onto me. The leader asked the kids if anyone remembered who I was and Erik’s hand shot up. I braced myself—I had been firm with him a times. He jumped to his feet and yelled, “He’s the man who told me how to be saved!”

 

Right!

Why do I believe what I believe?

One morning long ago, my father and took our family to visit an aunt’s small, new farm. I was 12, a gung-ho Boy Scout.  Auntie met us in the yard and immediately warned me to stay away from a bushy vine climbing a nearby fence.   Poison ivy, she said. It happened our Scout troop had just studied the noxious plant in the wild. One glance told me Auntie’s vine was harmless, though it resembled poison ivy. I walked over, grabbed an armload, and ripped it from the fence. Auntie went ballistic. “Go wash! There’s Fels Naphtha in the bathroom. And get out of that shirt!” No amount of explaining would dissuade her.

The man who sold her the farm had said the vine was poison ivy and certainly he would know. Auntie believed what she had been taught by a person she trusted, and that’s why be believe what we believe.

I spent my early years dead sure we Baptists had the Bible right: verbally inspired and inerrant. We read the King James’ version viewed through the lens of the Scofield reference version. Any other view was just plain wrong. Science and evolution were out to destroy the true faith.

As my world began to broaden, certain questions troubled me. But our gurus always came up with an answer, plausible or not. My uncertainties persisted.

Then, one sentence in respected theologian’s lecture, and a seminary professor’s doctoral dissertation set me free.

So, am I dead certain today I finally have everything right? By no means! But I’ll gladly tell you what I believe and why I believe it. Being right not all that important. God isn’t waiting on our understanding to fulfill his purposes.

Old Grandpa Lloyd

Scapegoat

It is Palm Sunday, a day vital to the Easter story. Here is a devotional called Scapegoat by Richard Rohr, A world-renowned Franciscan priest whose writings I pursue. His views parallel my non-scholarly thoughts in so many ways:

The ingenious Hebrew ritual from which the word “scapegoat” originated is described in Leviticus 16. On the Day of Atonement, a priest laid hands on an “escaping” goat, placing all the sins of the Jewish people from the previous year onto the animal. The goat was then beaten with reeds and thorns and driven out into the desert. It was a vividly symbolic act that helped to unite and free people in the short term. Instead of owning their sins, this ritual allows people to export them elsewhere—in this case onto an innocent animal.

French philosopher and historian René Girard (1923–2015) recognized this highly effective ritual across cultures and saw the scapegoat mechanism as a foundational principle for most social groups. The image of the scapegoat powerfully mirrors and reveals the universal, but largely unconscious, human need to transfer our guilt onto something or someone else by singling that other out for unmerited negative treatment. This pattern is seen in many facets of our society and our private, inner lives—so much so that we could almost name it “the sin of the world” (note that “sin” is singular in John 1:29). The biblical account, however, seems to recognize that only a “lamb of a God” can both reveal and resolve that sin in one nonviolent act.

We seldom consciously know that we are scapegoating or projecting. As Jesus said, people literally “do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34). In fact, the effectiveness of this mechanism depends on not seeing it! It’s automatic, ingrained, and unconscious. “She made me do it.” “He is guilty.” “He deserves it.” “They are the problem.” “They are evil.” We should recognize our own negativity and sinfulness, but instead we largely hate or blame almost anything else. Sadly, we often find the best cover for that projection in religion. God has been used to justify violence and hide from the parts of ourselves and our religions that we’d rather ignore. As Jesus said, “When anyone kills you, they will think they are doing a holy duty for God” (John 16:2).

Unless scapegoating can be consciously seen and named through concrete rituals, owned mistakes, shadow work, or “repentance,” the pattern will usually remain unconscious and unchallenged. The Scriptures rightly call such ignorant hatred and killing “sin,” and Jesus came precisely to “take away” (John 1:29) our capacity to commit it—by exposing the lie for all to see. Jesus stood as the fully innocent one who was condemned by the highest authorities of both “church and state” (Jerusalem and Rome), an act that should create healthy suspicion about how wrong even the highest powers can be. “He will show the world how wrong it was about sin, about who was really in the right, and about true judgment” (John 16:8).

This is what Jesus is exposing and defeating on the cross. He did not come to change God’s mind about us. It did not need changing. Jesus came to change our minds about God—and about ourselves—and about where goodness and evil really lie.

Thank you Sir.

Old Grandpa Lloyd