Who Is My Neighbor? Thoughts on Affliction, Oppression, Love and Life

A common thread running through much of the tapestry of the Bible deals with the concept of responsibility.  The people of God are to be focused on others, not themselves.  This has been evident throughout the Old Testament in many statements that are quite direct.  In passages like the following, the erring children of Israel were called to return to the principles of selflessness that God requires.

Isa 1:17 Learn to do good; Seek justice, Rebuke the oppressor; Defend the fatherless, Plead for the widow.

Jer 22:16 He judged the cause of the poor and needy; Then it was well. Was not this knowing Me?” says the LORD.

Psa 82:3 Defend the poor and fatherless; Do justice to the afflicted and needy.  4 Deliver the poor and needy; Free them from the hand of the wicked.

Many may read these passages and think that they don’t apply to us today, that they were focused on specific conditions for the recipients of a specific message.  They were indeed meant for that.  However, the principle behind them is enduring, as first formalized in the Law as recorded in Leviticus:

Lev 19:17  “You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him.

18  You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.”

The prophets repeatedly recalled the people to their duty to others.  Then Jesus, his apostles, and others reiterated this central concept of God’s expectation for his people.

Mat 19:19  “Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Mat 22:37  “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  38  This is the great and first commandment.  39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

Rom 13:8  “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  9  For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  10  Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”

Gal 5:14  “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jas 2:8  “If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.”

One of the most pointed examples of the responsibility to defend the powerless is found in the exhortation to the young ruler in Proverbs 31, where the wise man records the words of the oracle of King Lemuel’s mother,

“8  Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute.

9  Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.”

In all of these situations, the people who are in a position to help are required to do so to meet God’s approval.  It is incumbent on anyone who desires to be counted among God’s children to lay aside concerns for themselves and to aid those who are afflicted or oppressed.

“Oppression” is a term that frequently deals with the idea of one or more people seeking an advantage over another person or group.  This sort of thing was very evident in the slavery that was practiced in that long ago era, but it was not limited to it: employers may oppress employees, businesses may oppress their workers or their clients, governments may oppress their citizens, religious leaders may oppress their followers—in short, in any circumstance where people interact, one may seek advantage over another for selfish purposes.

“Affliction” is a term that is often used in the Bible, and refers to those who are in misery or distress for any of a number of reasons.  Sometimes, the distress is that of the spirit, as with those who may be poor and oppressed by forces that seek to keep them in subjection.  Affliction may come from economic woes, or from other worries.  We often equate affliction with sickness or some other health-related conditions.  It is this issue of affliction and the Christian’s responsibility to aid those who are afflicted that I wish to consider more fully.

First, anyone may fall under the shroud of affliction at any time.  The depth of affliction is not limited to the immediate effects of the triggering event or force.   Sickness, disease, or accident may rob anyone of their health and vitality, making them targets for economic loss, emotional distress, loss of relationships, loss of mental and emotional stability and security.  Birth defects and congenital conditions like cerebral palsy, forms of epilepsy, intellectual disabilities resulting from gross chromosomal issues like inversions or changes in numbers of chromosomes like Down’s Syndrome or Turner’s Syndrome represent just a few of the physical manifestations we may consider to be afflictions.  The tragedy of an illness striking a previously healthy, “normal” person is certainly appreciable.  The tragedy of being born with a condition that alters ability from before birth poses a very different reality, and a wholly different kind of affliction may arise: an affliction not resulting from the physical condition itself, but from the oppressive treatment that these individuals may experience at the hands of careless, unthinking people who stare, malign, mistreat and abuse not only the person who is different, but those who care for and love the people who are different.

I have seen this first hand, being the father of a child on the autism spectrum.  I have seen the way my son has been treated by thoughtless adults in various situations, how we as his parents have been insulted for not controlling our child, how people who are charged with helping children like him may look for ways to dodge their responsibilities.  This blurs the line between the affliction of bearing the condition that nature provided and the oppression of people who cannot see beyond their own narrow interests or comforts.

Kids with an ASD (autism spectrum disorder) are unpredictable.  They are often emotionally volatile, and when they are over-stimulated by the sensory overload of public places, they may act out, or have a “melt-down.”  It is difficult to stand by and ignore a child who suddenly falls to the floor, maybe in full tantrum.  The first impression may be that the parents are poor disciplinarians, that they have in some way failed to control their child, and that they are lax in their responsibilities.  I heard this very sentiment while dealing with a melt-down in the DVD section of a Best Buy store in Nashville, when I was treated to an analysis by a person who really needed to keep his thoughts to himself.  On vacation, we were walking into the hotel’s breakfast dining room when comments were overheard about our son’s bad behavior.  An untrained, unqualified employee at one location took it upon herself to tell me where he would be better off.  Cashiers at Walmart have even offered their own diagnosis of his condition.

It’s not just our situation that bears comment.  In September of 2012, an autistic girl in Florida was forcibly kicked from her school bus and broke her ankle as a consequence.  In February 2013, a report surfaced of an Indiana girl with Down’s Syndrome who had her shoes duct taped to her feet at school because the school workers were tired of dealing with trying to keep them on her.  The internet is full of stories of families who have experienced these sorts of indignities and abuses.

But the physical abuse is certainly not the worst or most hurtful.  The derogatory comments made in the presence of these children are totally unconscionable.  For example, an educator referred to a student with Asperger’s Syndrome (an autism spectrum disorder) as a “retard,” near the student and his parents.  This kind of negativity and stereotyping would never be tolerated if it were racially charged.  Why are people with intellectual disabilities any less human than any other minority group?

The solution that many people would welcome in dealing with people who are differently abled is to hide them away so that we don’t have to deal with them.  They don’t belong.  They can’t contribute.  They hold us back.  I fully and whole-heartedly disagree.  And when I see these people being abused whether intentionally or thoughtlessly, I have resolved to act to stop it.  I want to see the “r” word stricken from the common vocabulary.  While it once denoted a medical diagnosis, it has come to be used as an insult.  It is wrong to use this language, and especially when referring to a person with an intellectual disability.

The other evening, I was privileged to hear a wonderful message from a preacher whose demeanor was quiet, calm, and caring.  His topic was taken from the title of an old hymn, “How Beautiful Heaven Must Be.”  In three very well supported points, he painted a picture of heaven based on what will not be there (sin, pain, suffering), on who will be there (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, loved ones), and the fact that it will be the true home for those who would be true and loyal citizens of that kingdom.  Among those he cited as being there will be people with intellectual disabilities, who by reason of their inability to perhaps even comprehend the concept of sin, would be welcome there, having lived a life of innocence here in the present.  He quoted from an article written by a special education teacher, who said she was looking forward to seeing in heaven all of the wonderful children (as she remembered them) that she had worked with over the years, happy and free of their earthly limitations.  I wept.  I made my way through the crowd to thank this man, and very nearly began to cry again.  I had never heard anyone speak of heaven so beautifully, and with words so reassuring to one who loves someone with special needs.  After dealing with insensitive people on so many fronts, after watching my wife fight so fiercely and well for our son’s right to an appropriate education, and fight with insurance companies to cover the therapies that he needs to try and overcome some of the problems that he may face for the rest of his life, here was a man who offered a glimpse of a future that we all aspire to—a place in God’s courts to rest.

As I reflect on the external issues that plague kids with intellectual disabilities, their organic problems pale in comparison to the darkened, blighted hearts of their detractors.  Tim Russert was fond of saying that the best exercise for the human heart is to reach down to pull another person up.  Maybe it’s time for these people to open their hearts to engage in some exercise, and stop tearing down these vulnerable children of God.  And maybe it’s time to hear the oracle of King Lemuel’s mother, speak for those whose voices are not heeded for whatever reason, and see to the comfort and care of those whose needs may be beyond their own abilities to handle.  The command to “love your neighbor” is not contingent on the “normalcy” of the recipient’s physical abilities or mental capacity.  It is simple, direct, unmistakable, and fundamental to the rubric by which those who claim to be God’s people will be judged (Matthew 25:31ff).  To love here will lead to a better life for the object of that love in the present, and more life in the presence of the very heart of living love, the presence of God in the world to come.  Eternity for “enduring” what some may see as an “inconvenience.”  That seems like more than a fair bargain to me.

File This One Under “Isn’t It Interesting?”: Thoughts on Music and the Sacred

After listening to a choral performance of a high school group performing the old spiritual, “Give Me Jesus,” I found myself wiping my eyes.  Just moments ago, while viewing a university choir’s performance of “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” tears streamed down my face as I wept at the sheer beauty of it.  These instances, and as I reflect, numerous others have made me come to an interesting observation along with a question:  not much in life is as emotionally charged and deeply satisfying as well-trained human voices, singing beautiful music in apparently effortless harmony.  I think about the beautiful music that has been so perfectly crafted by human hearts, and so lovingly performed by human voices, and how the most beautiful of these pieces and performances are almost without exception sacred in nature, as if the spirit responds to rhythm and tone with a different set of rules.  Such an observation is not original, I’m sure, and the question it sparked is almost certainly not original, either, that being, “With so much beauty linked to the sacred, why are there no great pieces that celebrate and elevate atheism?”

A cursory search for “music and atheism” provides no examples.  One atheist site celebrates the great composers who were apparently disenchanted with religion, refusing last rites, or embracing pantheism or some other issue.  It is a matter of record that these sorts of things occurred.  However, that does not take away from the beauty of the music that was inspired in celebration of faith and the sacred.  Of course, there was the commercial element:  a composer has to eat, and therefore accepts the commission from a patron to compose a mass or some such piece.  But even so, there must have been some appreciation of the holy, or else the music would be nothing but a lackluster attempt at commercial mediocrity.  Had they, like Balaam, set forth to curse the faithful, but only blessings flowed from their pens?  I wonder….

When you consider the many genres of music that are distinctly connected to faith and the practice of religion, it is indeed mind-boggling.  Hymns are of course, foremost in the count of sacred music. There are so many beautiful hymns.  But none is more recognized and loved that John Newton’s “Amazing Grace.”  Many know of Newton’s connection to the slave trade and his later conversion to Christianity.  According to one account describing his earlier sea-faring days, “Newton gained notoriety for being one of the most profane men the captain had ever met….Newton was admonished several times for not only using the worst words the captain had ever heard, but creating new ones to exceed the limits of verbal debauchery.”  His poem, written to accentuate the sermon he would deliver on New Year’s Day, 1773, has been described by some as his spiritual autobiography.  It is nothing short of amazing that a man could rise from the depths of such depravity as the most profane man a ship’s captain had known to pen words of such divine beauty and universal appreciation.  Whether sung a cappella, as solo or as a choir, or accompanied by the skirl of a lone bagpipe or a battalion of bagpipes, the music and words are so ingrained in the human soul after two and a half centuries that I wonder why anyone would question the joyful wonder of grace.

The old Negro spirituals are beautiful in their simplicity and sincerity.  The first time I heard “Give Me Jesus,” I was sitting at a university graduation, and I thought that it was rather inappropriate to bring the sacred to such a secular event.  I later heard other versions, choral arrangements, and I grew to truly and deeply admire the song.  Simple, heart-felt, and unimposing, spirituals were songs of hope and comfort sung by an oppressed people.

There are conflicting stories regarding the order of composition, but whether the spiritual song, “Going Home,” was the basis for the Largo in D from Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 or vice versa, it is of little consequence.  Dvorak admitted the influence of African American and Native American music on his work, and suggested that such could be the foundation of a new, uniquely American school of composition.  The Largo in D is one of the most beautiful and moving pieces I have ever encountered.

For years, I was skeptical of the whole genre of contemporary Christian music.  But over the last few years, I have come to appreciate the warmth and encouragement of spiritual themes set to music that 21st century people can identify with.  I know many people would not enjoy this type of music, and I must admit that I don’t care for some of it, but I respect the artists who have met the challenge of bringing morality and faith to a style that speaks to people who may not otherwise listen to anything religious.  Music has power.  If music can open the door, the message of faith and hope may be able to take hold and change a life.  For example, Tenth Avenue North has a song titled “You Are More,” the refrain of which offers the assurance to a girl who has made some bad choices that “You are more than the choices that you’ve made, / You are more than the sum of your past mistakes, / You are more than the problems you create, / You’ve been remade.”  Such a positive message could give hope to hurting people.  That is so much richer than what most music has to offer.

Not to be left out, the classical world has produced many beautiful pieces with sacred themes.  Perhaps none of them is more recognized or celebrated than Handel’s great masterpiece of the oratorio, “The Messiah.”  This ambitious work chronicles the prophecy, birth, and passion of Jesus along with a musical meditation on the “aftermath” of Jesus’s crucifixion.  My favorite parts of this work are probably the Aria from part I, “Every Valley Shall Be Exalted,” and the unmistakable majesty of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Part II.

When I scanned the list of prominent atheist musicians and composers, so many listed were of the punk rock genre or heavy metal.  Both of these types of music seem to have a cynical view of life, so it is no wonder that people with no hope are drawn to music that feeds their dismal outlook.  Perhaps the best known of the atheistic music luminaries that I saw listed were John Lennon and Billy Joel.  Of course, there are many more, and this was just a brief survey.

For the sake of a mental discussion, let’s consider what may be the ultimate popular expression of religious skepticism, John Lennon’s “Imagine.”  He opens the song with imagining that there is neither heaven nor hell, that this reality is composed of only the physical.  Then, in the second verse, he notes that a world without countries would be a world without conflict, and without religion, there would be even more peace.  In the third verse, he notes that greed and hunger would disappear with the advent of the “brotherhood of man.”  All of these sentiments are set to a dreamy melody, and are somewhat hypnotic.

In response to Mr. Lennon, I will accept that many of the world’s problems have originated from, and many great atrocities have been perpetrated in the name of religion.  However, a totally secular world is no better.  Stalin’s purges in the early 20th century and countless other attempts of atheistic communism to eradicate religion are ample proof that extremism from the religious right or the secular left is no different in result.

Will religion lead to a utopian heaven on earth?  That is a ridiculous assertion.  We know from history that we are incapable of such things.  We are weak, and succumb to the temptations of greed and power.  It is human nature to be drawn to such vices—they are next door to the survival instinct.  However, the beauty of a true experience of Christianity is the opposite of that attraction to power and expression of avarice.  It turns the heart’s outlook outward to seek the good of all.  The connection of music with the sacred is deep and strong, and may just be the anchor that holds us in a gathering storm.  While the howling winds of this culture may rail like banshees against God and anything spiritual, and may seek to break our souls, “Amazing Grace” may lead us home.

Find 100 Ways

James Ingram and Quincy Jones teamed up on a fantastic R&B song in 1981 titled “Find 100 Ways.”  It encourages men to find 100 ways to make the women in their lives happy.  Not a bad sentiment.

But I started thinking:  could I find 100 ways to simply make a difference?  I’m not talking about grand scale programs and crusades.  Just 100 ways to make a difference in this life.  When I started the list, I was thinking about making a difference for others.  But I soon began to realize that making a difference for others is really making a difference for me; and making a difference for me, in turn, makes a difference for others if what I do helps me to become a better person.

It’s not an easy task.  The first 80 or so weren’t bad, but then I had to really think about how to fill out the last few.  I rearranged, grouped, regrouped, tried to limit redundancy, and tried to make sense.  Some are simple gestures.  Others are core attitudes.  None of them requires a college degree, millions of dollars, or a bully pulpit from which to proclaim its benefit.

I am in no wise suggesting that this is an exhaustive list.  Your list will be different from mine, but I would imagine there would be some common themes.  I’ll probably be coming up with different ideas for a long time, now that I’ve committed this much to words.  The challenge, though, is not just coming up with a list, but living the list.

Here’s what I have come up with so far.

1.  Smile.

2.  Say “Hello.”

3.  Open a door for someone you don’t know.

4.  Carry a package for someone who has her hands full.

5.  Thank a veteran.

6.  Thank a service person.

7.  Volunteer.

8.  Vote.

9.  Give blood.

10.  Give up something for yourself so that you can donate to charity.

11.  Donate food to your local food bank.

12.  Hug a child.

13.  Call your parents.

14.  Call your children.

15. Say “I love you” to the most important people in your life.  Mean it.

16.  Play fair.

17.  Be objective.

18.  Build your faith with humility.

19.  Live your faith with integrity.

20.  Share your faith respectfully.

21.  Forgive if someone asks it of you.

22.  Forgive without being asked.

23.  Forgive yourself.

24.  Compliment your spouse.

25.  Do your best.

26.  Learn something new.

27.  Make someone happy.

28.  Listen.

29.  Look for solutions.

30.  Don’t be afraid—or ashamed—to cry.

31.  Be informed.

32.  Be courteous.

33.  Be kind.

34.  Read to a child.

35.  Tip well.

36.  Use your turn signals.

37.  Be a friend.

38.  Be patient.

39.  Apologize.  Mean it.

40.  Support local businesses.

41.  Stop smoking if you do, don’t start if you don’t.

42.  Observe everything.

43.  Ask for help.

44.  Be willing to help.

45.  Offer sympathy.  Mean it.

46.  Overlook a fault.

47.  Acknowledge your own faults.

48.  Know your limitations.

49.  Take responsibility.

50.  Don’t place blame.

51.  Cooperate.

52.  Lead.

53.  Follow.

54.  Learn from the past.

55.  Live in the present.

56.  Plan for the future.

57.  Respect other cultures.

58.  Wash your hands.  Frequently.  And well.

59.  Mind your health.

60.  Appreciate sacrifice.

61.  Cherish freedom.

62.  Plant a tree.

63.  Thank a teacher.

64.  Thank a farmer.

65.  Avoid arguments.

66.  Protect wildlife.

67.  Believe in yourself.

68.  Believe in something bigger than yourself.

69.  Trust others.

70.  Be trustworthy.

71.  Don’t litter.

72.  Return a shopping cart.

73.  Face your fears.

74.  Give respite to a caregiver.

75.  Don’t stare at people who are different.

76.  Talk less.

77.  Communicate more.

78.  Simplify.

79.  Practice humility.

80.  Share.

81.  Commit to excellence.

82.  Be honest without arrogance.

83.  Change a flat tire for someone who can’t.

84.  Seek clarity.

85.  Withhold judgment if you are short on facts.

86.  Don’t criticize without praise.

87.  Don’t praise without sincerity.

88.  Be humane.

89.  Appreciate diversity.

90.  Seek unity.

91.  Be passionate about something.

92.  Find a purpose in life.

93.  Be persistent.

94.  Be consistent.

95.  Seek to understand others so that you may be understood.

96.  Find good in every person.

97.  Be thankful.

98.  Pray for peace.

99.  Think.

100.  Love well.

A Meditation on “This Is My Father’s World”

Being the son of a preacher, I remember going to church a lot when I was growing up.  I remember a hot summer gospel meeting held by a congregation out in the country.  The benches (I would hesitate to call them pews) were composed of a board to sit on, and a board several inches higher to rest your back uncomfortably on.  There was no air conditioning.  The heat continued well into the night, as did the guest preacher.  He spoke for what seemed like hours–over two, as I recall, maybe closer to three–but maybe not as long as Paul’s discussion until midnight in Acts 20.

There are certainly plenty of those kinds of memories.  But the memories I enjoy most of church attendance in my youth are of the singing.  I love music.  It is, therefore, indeed a happy coincidence that God loves it, too.  The greatest king of Israel, King David, was also a shepherd, a warrior, a singer and song-writer.  The words of his Psalms are among the most beautiful ever written in any language.  But there have been thousands of exceptionally beautiful pieces of sacred music written for voice or instrument in the scores of centuries since David put pen to parchment.

One of my favorite hymns of all time was written by a Presbyterian minister, Maltbie D. Babcock.  Babcock was a fine athlete, an accomplished musician, and a preacher that connected well with his audience, owing to his ability to present spiritual truths in a way that people could relate to them, with freshness and a dynamic delivery.  He was in demand as a speaker at colleges throughout America.

It is said that Babcock enjoyed hiking in a rough area near Lockport, NY, a forested escarpment, the height of which provided a magnificent view of the countryside.  He would announce his intention of adventure by saying, “I’m going out to see my Father’s world.”  That sentiment became the title of his wonderful hymn, “This Is My Father’s World,” set to the music of an old English melody, “Terra Beata.”

From an early age, I enjoyed nature.  It is no wonder, then that this song spoke directly to me.  While the old song books we used failed to preserve all of Babcock’s verses, the ones there were enough to bring me nearly to tears whenever I heard it.

Here are the words to Babcock’s masterpiece.

This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears
All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father’s world: I rest me in the thought
Of rocks and trees, of skies and seas;
His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father’s world, the birds their carols raise,
The morning light, the lily white, declare their Maker’s praise.
This is my Father’s world: He shines in all that’s fair;
In the rustling grass I hear Him pass;
He speaks to me everywhere.

This is my Father’s world. O let me ne’er forget
That though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father’s world: the battle is not done:
Jesus Who died shall be satisfied,
And earth and Heav’n be one.

This is my Father’s world, dreaming, I see His face.
I ope my eyes, and in glad surprise cry, “The Lord is in this place.”
This is my Father’s world, from the shining courts above,
The Beloved One, His Only Son,
Came—a pledge of deathless love.

This is my Father’s world, should my heart be ever sad?
The lord is King—let the heavens ring. God reigns—let the earth be glad.
This is my Father’s world. Now closer to Heaven bound,
For dear to God is the earth Christ trod.
No place but is holy ground.

This is my Father’s world. I walk a desert lone.
In a bush ablaze to my wondering gaze God makes His glory known.
This is my Father’s world, a wanderer I may roam
Whate’er my lot, it matters not,
My heart is still at home.

These words are so beautiful, so heart-felt, so deeply reverential.  The thing I notice most is the blending of the natural world with the spiritual, the nexus of two realms.  The words stuck with me: as a boy, I would listen for God in that rustling grass.  I wanted to see if the song was true.  Of course it is true.  I have heard him in a cloudless, star-jeweled night sky, and in the resolute confidence of a ground pine peeking through the winter snow on a frozen January ridgetop.  I have experienced him in the hush of footfalls in a cedar-carpeted glade, and in the salt spray of a barrier island.  I have listened to him in a high alpine meadow and a flooded bottomland forest.  I have listened to him from the depth of a cavern’s darkness and in the brightness of a drought-scorched desert.  He speaks to us in so many ways.

The title of the song, which was published by his wife after Babcock’s untimely death, echoes David’s exclamation in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein….”  As I read the full set of lyrics, I feel cheated to have been denied the beauty of the fifth and sixth stanzas, in particular.  The exclamation at the realization that “The Lord is in this place” is genuine, and stands in contrast to the mere dream of seeing God.  He is everywhere, as he continues in the fifth verse, “…should my heart be ever sad? /The Lord is King—let the heavens ring.  God reigns—let the earth be glad.”

He continues, “Now closer to Heaven bound, /For dear to God is the earth Christ trod. / No place but is holy ground.”  God said of his creation that it was “very good.”  Mankind has a way of spoiling things, but as we draw closer to the purpose Heaven has set for us, the greater appreciation we shall have of the glory that is this world.  Why would God set the earth in motion if he were not interested in it?  No, the earth itself is dear to him, as are we.

Babcock’s closing thought reminds me of Paul’s meditation on contentment in Philippians 4:11-13. “(11)  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. (12) I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. (13) I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”  The poet’s expression, “…a wanderer I may roam/ Whate’er my lot, it matters not, My heart is still at home,” speaks of a deep connection to God through the beauty of the earth.  As long as he could enjoy the view, he could be content with whatever life had in store for him.  That last bit is a hard thing to implement.  It takes faith.  A lot of it. Maybe more than many may even possess.

After all these years, I still delight in hearing the song and in its singing, participating in its beauty.  What a wonderful song.  It is like a walk in the majestic forest-cathedral of God’s own design.  It appreciates the physical especially in that the physical supports the spiritual.  We cannot divorce those two aspects of our nature, as some may promote.  If we neglect the physical, with its beauty and witness to God’s greatness, we tread only in a realm of shadows that we are not quite ready to view, like a baby born prematurely, with eyes that cannot yet focus and appreciate the world beyond that first cradle.  We also risk losing sight of the needs of the physical, and grow to neglect such needs that we may see in others.  I once heard it said that someone was so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly good.  The earth is good, and there is no great virtue in denying that.  There is virtue in celebrating it for the splendor of God’s gracious gifts, not the least of which is a wonderful world in which to live.

“This is my Father’s world” is a simple acknowledgement of ownership.  If we accept that, we also know that like Adam in the garden, we are stewards of this creation.  Every time I have heard the song, that sentiment wells up within me, sometimes consciously, sometimes subconsciously, but it is there all the same.  It reiterates the trust that God has given us to dress and keep this world.  It is a sacred trust and grave responsibility.  To destroy the owner’s property is to dishonor the owner, and we would have nothing to offer in restitution.  Indeed, “This is my Father’s world, O let me ne’er forget….”