Wednesday, August 23, 2017

August 23 - William and Catherine Booth, Evangelists, Missionaries

William Booth was born to a family that had wealth and was able to provide him with an education but his father made some bad financial decisions that resulted in the loss of their wealth and a slow and painful descent into poverty. Eventually, William's education was no longer affordable and he was withdrawn from school and apprenticed to a pawnbroker. While undergoing his apprenticeship, he began attending services with a nearby Methodist congregation. Among these people, he began the process of his conversion away from sin and into God's calling upon his life. After he had finished his apprenticeship, he fled from the profession and sought work anywhere except pawnbroking. He tried preaching for a living but found it hard to make enough to supply even his most basic needs. Finally, he took a job at a pawnbroker in London--even though he detested the job--so that he could supply his basic needs and also preach to the people of London.

Catherine was born into a family of modest means that moved several times in her upbringing before settling in London. By the time she was twelve years old, Catherine had read the Bible through eight times.Her familiarity with the scripture made her a stunning interpreter to those who were willing to listen to a young girl and woman interpret the scripture. She would, during these years, seriously question the validity of prohibitions against the involvement of women in the inner workings and leadership of the Church. At the age of fourteen, she was very ill but would recover and used the time she was bound to the bed to read and also to write articles about social ills like alcoholism.

The two would meet in London in 1852 when William preached to the congregation that Catherine was a part of. They would be married in 1855 in a simple ceremony in order to save money for missions and ministry. Though they were Methodist, at first, they left when William was continually assigned to pastorates he did not feel called to. William and Catherine felt called to the evangelistic life of meager means and much travel.When his requests to be an evangelist were denied yet again, he and his wife resigned the pastorate and were barred from Methodist circles. Their theology and doctrine, however, remained essentially the same. During these formative years in the pastorate, Catherine began teaching children and young people and, then, speaking aloud in worship services and offering her testimony before the other adult members. These years were a time of formation for Catherine who believe in the rightness of women speaking in the church. Their heart, however, was in missionary evangelism in London.

They started a mission in London for the poor and needy. William cared for the destitute and downtrodden providing them with sustenance and support. They opened their doors to criminals and prostitutes, as well. They hoped to associate with the kind of people that Jesus had associated with. Finding themselves in good company, Catherine began reaching out to the wealthy in the community and seeking their financial assistance for the good work being done at the mission. She was surprisingly effective at persuading the affluent to share their wealth with the needy and the mission was well-supplied even if its workers were never well-paid.

Eventually, they renamed the mission the "Salvation Army" and utilized military imagery to govern and inform those that were involved with it. They were admittedly an army with no weapons. William took the title of "General" and Catherine took the title of "Mother." Their mission was exploding and expanding. It reached out throughout not only Britain, but also to other countries in need of hearing a message of salvation by grace through faith and conversion away from brokenness. During only William's life the Salvation Army started missions in 58 countries and colonies on the principles that salvation and redemption were free things and not commodities to be traded in or marketed. They hoped to provide for the poor and love them in a society that didn't even want to acknowledge them. Upon Catherine's death, their home was given to a cause that helped children with learning disabilities. Catherine died in William's arms with her family around her. When William died, years later, he was buried beside his beloved wife. Upon their deaths, they were not wealthy but they were well-respected and much-loved. They were not powerful but they were influential. They were not repaired--yet--but they were converted.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

August 22 - Anne Hutchinson, Teacher, Dissident

Anne Hutchinson was born Anne Marbury to a family that was well known for its dissent and disagreement. Her father had been jailed and persecuted for his dissent with ecclesiastic officials in England. He had insisted that so many of them were unprepared, untrained, and incompetent. For this, he suffered. In this, he taught his daughter the value of dissent and the likely outcome. Though, it would seem that Anne needed little help finding room for dissent and challenging the Church to be what it is called to be instead of what it is comfortable being.

Surely, she thought back to her father's punishment as she stood in the courtroom in Massachusetts undergoing trial for dissenting from the popular opinion of the Puritan officials. Anne had taken to teaching bible studies in her home. She started by inviting her female neighbors and friends but there was something very different about Anne's approach to the scripture. She wasn't teaching the same interpretations that the Puritan preachers repeated in the pulpit. She welcomed questions and confusion and did not label them as marks of a lack of faith. Instead, she encouraged the participants to question things like the enslavement of the native peoples and the subordination of women.

She spoke and taught as a minister and authority on the scripture and Christian teaching. She invited the listeners to imagine a radically equal and welcoming Church. She suggested, upon occasion, that the clergy were inappropriately expressing their authority by confining and repressing her brothers and sisters. She suggested that the clergy were using moral and legal codes to insure their own place of power and influence by stripping others of their capacity for action and thought. This would, eventually, cause her great suffering but not before it started to catch among the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Eventually, her home bible-studies were full and being attended by men in addition to women. She had to move the meeting into the local church because her home could no longer accommodate the large crowds. The clergy opposed her teachings under the pretense that she wasn't qualified to teach and might misinform them but this pretense gave way when they realized that their power over the people was waning and they were choosing to listen to Anne, anyway. They decried her teaching because of her sex and she responded from scripture that her actions were acceptable and in line with orthodox teaching. They were losing their power over those whom they drew it from and they began to get nervous. As is the case with most who oppose the status quo in favor of divine calling, she was attacked and vilified by the powers-that-be.

Governor Vane--one of Anne's supporters--lost his position to John Winthrop who had Anne arrested, charged, and tried. They resented that she was teaching that women were equal with men and worth equal treatment and consideration. They suggested that she was inciting rebellion and sedition. Further, they were enraged that she would criticize the clergy--the professional religious--even though she was a woman. They forced her--even though she was pregnant--to stand for days and answer the interrogations and accusations of the male board. She responded to all of their charges and accusations and stood firm in her right to say and do what she had done. She is quoted as saying to them, "You have no power over my body, neither can you do me any harm. I fear none but the great Jehovah, which hath foretold me of these things, and I do verily believe that he will deliver me out of your hands..." In desperation, they found her guilty and banished her from the colony "as being a woman not fit for our society." They were correct but it was by far more of a charge against their society than it was against Anne. Before her exile, she was made to suffer the indignity of a religious trial on the basis of a charge of blasphemy. Further, they felt it was inappropriate that she had allowed men to be present at her house studies and she was also condemned for this. Of these charges, she was also found guilty and excommunicated from the Puritan communion.

Before she was exiled, many of her followers (including Roger Williams) voluntarily left the colony and started a new one in Rhode Island. Due to the abuses of the Puritan judges and officials, Anne suffered a miscarriage. Regrettably, she was mocked for this and informed that this was the judgment of God upon her for her sins. A follower of hers suffered the same fate. She was exiled and found a home with her husband and followers in Rhode Island where she helped lead and manage the colony for many years before her death at the hands of Native Americans while traveling.

In many ways, Anne's life was proof that dissenting from the powers-that-be can cause suffering and persecution but, yet, it is still worth doing when the powers cannot see the Kingdom. Anne taught Christian doctrine freely and without regard for how it would be received by those who stood against her. Anne dared to profess the radical notion of the dignity and equality of women against a people who stood to gain by repressing women. Consequently, she was crushed in the gears of a system made for maintaining power for those who have it. But in being crushed, she bore a powerful witness to the sin and corruption within the system.

Monday, August 21, 2017

August 21 - Abraham of Smolensk, Orphan Monk, Falsely Accused, Vindicated

Abraham was born to wealthy parents in the 12th century, so you might say he
was fortunate. However, his parents died when he was very young and he was left to live with others in Smolensk, Russia, who loved him but who could never replace his father and mother in his life. Abraham was raised in the Church and was familiar with its teachings from a young age. Perhaps, his guardians thought that the Church, with all its many brothers and sisters, could be the family that Abraham needed so desperately. In many ways, it was, but it never made up for his deceased parents and their absence in his life. When he was deemed "old enough" to make decisions about his family fortune, he could only think of one thing to do with all that wealth--he gave it to the poor, took up the life of a monk, and moved to the Bogoroditskaya Monastery. He grew into his calling and vocation and was known as a forceful and convicting preacher, as well as being a scholar of the scriptures and the Church's teachings concerning the scriptures.

But what he was best known for during his service at Bogoroditskaya was his ministry to the poor and sick that always seemed to be growing. Abraham's genuine affection for those in trouble and need made him stand out from the average monk at Bogoroditskaya at the time and attracted much attention to his compassionate care from both those in need and other clergy. We could offer many reasons why his upbringing and fatherless and motherless childhood led Abraham to care for such as those whom he loved, but one thing is for certain beyond all other things: whatever it was that formed Abraham, formed him to be more loving and more caring--to be more like his savior, Jesus Christ. Many of Abraham's peers and colleagues at Bogoroditskaya became jealous of, or convicted by, his compassionate care and genuine love for those who were troubled. Consequently, they leveled charges of heresy and pride against him, insisting that what was genuine was actually corrupt. Abraham's enemies had reasoned that it was better to put out the light he produced, than to have others see clearly what little light shone from their hearts. The wealthy condemned Abraham for preaching against poverty and greed. After all, when your god is your wealth or your security, then even love and grace must bleed upon your altar. So, an investigation was opened into the character and orthodoxy of Abraham. Abraham avoided the conflict by moving and joining the Monks of the Holy Cross.

But, the accusations followed Abraham and soon he was forbidden to preach. Even though two consecutive investigations acquitted him of any wrongdoing, he was stripped of all priestly functions by his bishop and sent back to Bogoroditskaya to be obedient to his superiors and abandon his ministry to the sick and poor. But, soon a drought gripped Smolensk and the people cried for the Church to pray to God to grant rain to the city and its

fields. When the Church assured the people that it would though, the people demanded that Abraham be asked to do so because they knew personally what great love Abraham held for them. Because of the outpouring of support, the bishop reopened Abraham's investigation, cleared him of all charges, and renewed him to his priestly role and ministry to the sick and the poor. After Abraham prayed with the people for rain, he hadn't made it back to his cell when the first drops of rain began to fall on Smolensk. Abraham spent the rest of his life teaching and caring for the poor and the sick, because he had learned the power of love in the lives of those who need it so much. Abraham the fatherless and motherless had become father and mother to so many in need of God's love and grace and that had made all the difference in the world.

Sunday, August 20, 2017

August 20 - Geert Groote, Founder of the Brethren of the Common Life, Rekindled Minister

Geert was a prodigious talent of considerable note among his peers and teachers. He received a highly regarded and expensive education that made him a person of status and envy. His primary areas of study were medicine, theology, and canon law. As a student of these disciplines, he received a well-rounded and enviable education that prepared him for an enjoyable life. Further, Geert was gifted in these disciplines and received numerous honors for his work. He had found that success in the world could be gained with consistent and concerted effort and a little bit of talent. Geert was appointed as a professor of theology and philosophy. Further, he received a portion of the cathedral's revenues and was very wealthy. So much of Geert's life was enviable for those who might look upon it--he had wealth, honors, respect, and influence. But, Geert was called to something greater and better.

Some of his dear friends contacted him and warned him about the seductions of wealth, power, and influence and insisted that he should pursue the higher calling that God had placed on his life. The love and devotion of his devoted friends had an impact on him and he,eventually, turned aside from his honors and wealth and sought out a monastery where he might rekindle what had been smothered in him--his calling as a minister of the Kingdom of the Slaughtered Lamb. He spent three years at the monastery in seclusion and prayer. His devotion only increased until the day he left and shocked people with the change that had been kindled in him in the monastery. Geert--who had become intoxicated with the pleasures and values of the world--had retreated from its temptations and found rest for his soul and invigoration for his devotion. Upon leaving, he became a traveling preacher of renown because of his incredible zeal and his uniform rejection of the things of the world.

A man of such zeal and skill drew disciples and followers who desired to follow after their leader. Eventually, one of his followers asked him, "Teacher, why don't we work together and coordinate our efforts? Why not work and pray together under the guidance of our Common Father?" Geert saw the wisdom in the leading of his disciple and guided his followers in joining together as the "Brethren of the Common Life." This group was a type of brotherhood that hoped to kindle in others the fire that had been kindled in them and in Geert. In many ways, Geert is one of the fathers of the devotional life and the idea of daily prayer and pious reflection. It was Geert's time in the monastery that formed the aspirations of this new group as they shared their devotion, kindled the fire within them, and led countless others to the fire that was consuming them--the fire of the Spirit filled life of conversion.