Quinn Caldwell is a minister at Old South Church in Boston, Massachusetts. In addition to living in and serving the greatest city on the planet, he also played a major role in my conversion. I sent him an e-mail a while ago to thank him, and I bet he scratched his head wondering how he, a United Church of Christ minister, taught me the lessons I needed in order to join the Mormon church. The two churches… in my head… just… don’t match. They should. They even could! But they don’t.
This post, as we near the moment I decided to be baptized, is a giant and public thank you to Quinn. His Stillspeaking Daily Devotionals helped me gain a testimony of things with which I struggled. He offered support, direction, love, and hope. And anonymity as I figured things out.
Here are a few of his scripture reflections and prayers. I hope they serve you, dear readers, they way he served me.
This first one is particularly important to me. It was one of the first devotionals I read and it helped me understand my struggle with faith in words I could understand. So, of course, I cried.
1. On Faith
Jesus Christ lived, suffered and died, returned, and is right now doing stuff that matters for your life.
What would it take to believe that?
Acts says Jesus presented himself “by many convincing proofs.” Things, we assume, like talking with Mary Magdalene, eating with his followers, and inviting Thomas to touch the hole in his side.
But what constitutes a “convincing proof” that Christ is alive and kicking these days? What did it for you? Was it a vision? Your parents? The moment your son was born? The way you felt when they sang that one hymn on a random Sunday in 1983? Somebody you love telling you about their faith?
What proved it to you, not beyond a doubt—that’s science, not faith—but enough for you to bend your life around it?
The Book of Acts is a story about the apostles going around presenting Jesus “by many convincing proofs” to people they thought needed reminders that God is real and hope wins. Your life, God hopes, will turn out to be about the same thing.
So, again: what first proved to you that the faith is true? And then, more importantly: how are you going to prove it to somebody else?
God, I am not always sure what to believe. I’m not asking for certainty here, just enough convincing to get through each day. And then for the grace to pass it on to someone else. Amen.
2. Exodus 16: 27-35 (this is how I gained a solid testimony of the Sabbath day)
One hundred years ago today, a fire broke out in a New York City sweatshop. Before it was all over, almost 150 women were dead, having burned, asphyxiated, fallen from a faulty fire escape, or jumped. The Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire is still one of the worst industrial disasters in US history.
Investigators later discovered that the foreman had locked exit stairwells to keep the women at work longer. Public outrage led to improved safety standards and spurred the growth of unions that helped protect women from exploitation.
But there was someone outraged over the exploitation of laborers long before 1911: God. You’ve heard about how sabbath helps us rest, recharge, get in touch with ourselves and God. But the Bible’s clear that sabbath is also about protecting those over whom you have power from being overworked—by you.
You may choose to race seven days a week, but what does that do to the people around you? How does your employee feel when he gets emails full of work on Saturday morning? What do your kids learn when you work 90 hours a week? Are you really doing the stock boy at the 24-hour supermarket any favors by demanding an all-night grocery store to fit your schedule?
OK, so calling your secretary at home on the weekend isn’t as bad as locking employees inside a tinderbox of a sweatshop. But the Bible is clear: your decision to work or to rest affects the people around you. It’s also clear about this: once a week, for their sake, choose rest.
Lord, make me an instrument of your justice. Amen.
3. Romans 2:12-16
I like atheists. They tend to have considered the issues. They tend to have asked themselves the holy questions about the origins of the universe, about happiness, about what constitutes the good life, about good and evil, injustice and mercy, about how to live.
Of course they and I disagree on at least one fundamental point. Of course many are grumpy, judgmental, and dogmatic (certain public intellectuals come to mind). Of course many have chosen atheism out of laziness. Then again, those things are true of many Christians, as well.
By and large, my experience has been that the average atheist has arrived at her position through careful thinking at some cost to herself, and lives a life marked by kindness and generosity. Which is saying something in a world where many people’s vision of the good life is spending half their time watching TV and the other half shopping—precisely so they don’t have to think about big questions or make sacrifices.
Paul wanted to convince his co-religionists that God is at work everywhere, even in those with religious convictions different from Paul’s. So it is, I believe, with atheists—though most would not thank me for saying so.
If what Paul says is true, then God is shown forth more fully in the life of a careful-thinking, good-living atheist than a lukewarm Christian-by-default. If what Paul says is true, God might even prefer the latter to the former.
God, thank you for working through all kinds of strange people—even me. Amen.
4. Genesis 37:1-28
The story of Joseph and his brothers reads like a textbook on birth order dynamics.
There’s Joseph, he of the famous coat, who’s effectively though not literally the youngest. He spends all day coming up with ways to annoy his older brothers, from tattling on them to having dreams in which he finally becomes the boss of them all.
There are the middle brothers, always misbehaving and beating up on the youngest one—or selling him into slavery.
There’s Reuben, the oldest and the responsible one, who calms the middle-child hellions down, tries to protect the baby, and is forever freaking out about what Dad’s going to say.
It will take a prison, a famine, a scheming minx, dreams, psychic powers, a Pharaoh, and God to get this family back together. And you thought your family was screwed up.
God cares as much about your family as Joseph’s. Got a sibling rivalry that’s gone on long enough? A wound that’s not going to heal till somebody says something important, like “I’m sorry” or “I forgive you”? Does somebody need to break out of their birth order? Perhaps today is the day to pray for God to intervene.
God, thank you for promising to not let separation and discord be the end for the families you love. And thank you that the youngest children always grow up to be awesomer than their two mean older sisters, which just serves them right for always calling their little brother names and never letting him play with their Barbies. Amen.
5. 2 Corinthians 13:14 (this helps me understand the Godhead)
Is there anybody else out there who doesn’t get the Trinity?
Is there anybody else out there for whom 3 = 1 just doesn’t compute? Anybody who fears they’re the only one in church that doesn’t have the triune God figured out? If so, here’s good news: Nobody. Gets. The Trinity.
Not in any rational, well-reasoned sense, anyway. That’s because God is not, finally, able to be reasoned out. Here’s what happens if you try to make the Trinity reasonable: the Athanasian Creed. Can you say, “Uncompelling”? Or check this link out: someone actually tried to diagram God!
Other people, of course, simply decided that since they couldn’t make sense of the Trinity, they’d do away with it; just ask your cousin the Unitarian.
If you decide that the Trinity has to make rational sense, then those are pretty much your only options: either carefully ridiculous explanations and diagrams, or throwing it over altogether.
Try this instead: try approaching the Trinity with a faculty other than reason. Like wonder. Like awe. Like appreciation for beauty (Google “Rublev Trinity,” for instance). Or try this: don’t explain the Trinity, sing it. Stand up right now and sing the Doxology, whatever version you know. If it feels true when you sing praise, then it’s true enough.
Nobody gets the Trinity. Then again, if we did, it wouldn’t be God.
Dear God, thank you for being big enough for me to worship. Thank you for being too mysterious for me to get. And if you ever catch me trying to diagram you, please smite my pencil immediately. Amen.
6. 1 Peter 4: 7-11
When I read this line, I frantically flipped through the book, looking for the part that said Peter was talking only about how to act in worship. Turns out Peter was talking about all the time. He says it’s our job to try to have everything that comes out of our mouths be something that God would say. Every. Thing.
How would your day be different if when you called customer service and got someone in another country, you treated him as God would? What would happen if when gossiping in the breakroom, you only said things about your colleagues that might proceed from the mouth of the Lord?
What would it be like if when your kids are at their most difficult, you only said things to them that a loving creator would say? Frankly, I doubt I could handle doing that for a whole morning, never mind a whole lifetime.
So let’s start small: pick an hour and spend it trying to say only what God would. At the end of that hour, ask yourself if it went better or worse that most of your hours go. If it’s the latter, drop it. But if it’s the former, well, then, you know what to do.
(P.S. And since I totally know how your mind works: no, you don’t get to demand that the people around you worship you even though that IS the kind of thing God would say. Or was nobody else thinking that? Just me? OK then, never mind.)
Lord, may the words of my lips be acceptable in your sight. Amen.
7. On God’s Mercy
Mercy always sounds to me like a word for bigger-deal people than I am. If I were the king, I could be merciful. If I held a loan that someone was having trouble paying off, I could be merciful. If I were holding a sword and standing over a fallen foe, I could show mercy then, too. It’s hard to imagine li’l ole me being in any position to show mercy in day-to-day life, though.
James thinks differently. He thinks it’s a day-to-day kind of thing.
Maybe I didn’t have to have such a big sigh when my partner forgot to bring home milk, even though he totally said he’d do it, and then totally didn’t.
Maybe I didn’t have to lay on my horn quite so harshly when that lady cut me off on the way to work this morning, even though she was obviously in the wrong.
Maybe mercy is about self-control, about choosing not to use power to convict someone (even tiny power, like a disappointed sigh or an angry horn blast), choosing not to vent one’s spleen just because it feels good.
So today, I will try to be self-controlled. I will focus more on relationships than being right, more on building others up than pointing out the ways they’ve wronged me. Today, I will try to show the world the mercy I hope to one day receive when I find myself kneeling before the One with all the power.
God, please be merciful. And let me be, too. Amen.
8. On believing, not believing, and learning to believe
I often hear from worshipers who are unsure whether they should say or sing something in worship. One guy can’t get his head around the Trinity, and wonders whether he should be singing the Doxology with the rest of us. A woman doesn’t think she should pass the peace because she rarely feels particularly peaceful herself.
They’re worried about being the kind of hypocrite Isaiah describes. I love that about them.
Here’s what I tell them: If you don’t believe something, and don’t want to believe it, and are not open to new insight on that point, then don’t say it.
But if you’re simply not sure you believe something, or if you don’t believe it now but would like to believe it, or if you’re willing to be changed, then go for it. If we were all expected to believe everything about the faith before we even walk in the door, then the whole place—including the pulpit—would be empty. Instead, we’re all in the process of talking and living ourselves into belief.
I tell them to think of the words like beautiful hand-me-down clothes that may not fit now, but which they just might grow into. I tell them go ahead, say the words bold and proud, and see whether you aren’t convinced in the saying.
Which is not hypocrisy, but hope.
Lord, don’t let me be a hypocrite, but don’t let me pass up on truth just because I don’t get it the first time, either. Amen.
Quinn, thank you for who you are, what you believe, and how you serve. You are an amazing role model and mentor in my growing faith and testimony. You’re wicked awesome.
So much love,