Faith or Good Works?

IMG_20170318_234705Read James 2:14-26

“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works also is dead.”

—James 2:26 (KJV)

As part of our Lenten observance, my wife and I decided to bolster our faith by studying devotionals from The Upper Room each day. I’m used to daily devotions because I grew up as the son of a Southern Baptist minister, and my family used Our Daily Bread religiously between breakfast and whatever else we did every day of the week. Timberley and her parents were United Methodists but infrequently sat down together at home to read the Bible and a brief devotional. At my house, the readings were followed by a familiar hymn and then a closing prayer, with each family member taking his or her turn praying out loud. In Timberley’s family, talks with God were private, as they should be.

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Weekend Update: Tales of Life in Two Cities


With a nod to Charles Dickens, the past week held the best of times and came close to including the worst of times for Timberley and me as we managed to keep living in two western North Carolina towns at once—one, our hometown; the other, the college town where we worked for two decades before retiring as public school teachers last summer.

Blowing Rock VFD at the Green Mountain Overlook on Friday
Blowing Rock VFD at the Green Mountain Overlook on Friday

This arrangement makes our answers to the questions “Where do you live?” and “What’s your home address?” difficult to answer, especially when they’re being asked by 9-1-1 operators, firemen, tow-truck drivers and auto dealership service managers. Thank goodness for cell phones and one number that fits all situations (I mean that in a couple of respects)—unless you’re on a mountain in one county and the nearest cell tower that your emergency call can hit is off the mountain in the next county.

Yes, it was an eventful week—so much to share, so little time to share it. So, with another nod, this time to Saturday Night Live’s team of crack newscasters, here’s our Weekend Update:

RAHN – Good evening, everyone. This is Weekend Update for Saturday, March 11, 2017, the end of yet another week in the Post-Truth Era of modern American life. Here’s Timberley with our lead story.

TIMBERLEY – Thanks, Rahn. A carefree drive on the Blue Ridge Parkway almost ended in disaster Friday afternoon for two, uh, Burke, no, two Watauga—yeah, we’ll go with that—two, Watauga County residents, as the gas tank of their 2004 Jeep Liberty broke loose and spilled its contents at an overlook halfway up the Grandfather Mountain escarpment. No one was injured, and no fire resulted. Blowing Rock volunteer firemen answered the call to spread oil-drying compound on the spill. Back to you, Rahn.

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Grave Thoughts on a Dreary Monday

A late winter day at Forest Hill Cemetery in Morganton
A late winter day at Forest Hill Cemetery in Morganton


For various reasons I’ve been thinking about mortality lately—you know, about life and death.

FUMC of Morganton
FUMC of Morganton

Maybe it was from sitting in the sound booth last week during my church’s Ash Wednesday service and listening to our minister murmur, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return,” time after time after time through my headphones as he marked gray X’s on congregants’ foreheads. Each of them heard that mantra only once; I heard it about a hundred times—over and over and over. But I’m OK.

Ash Wednesday—or, more popularly in some circles, the day after Mardi Gras—is the start of Lent, the 40 days not counting Sundays when many Christians including us Methodists observe the last days of Jesus’ life before his death and resurrection on the first Easter Sunday morning 2,000 years ago. What Did Jesus Do? He lived. He died. He lives again. It’s a good story, maybe even the greatest ever told.

Yes, yes. I see your hand raised and hear your, “But … but …,” and I know that everything is debatable nowadays, that we even argue about the price of butter in Japan, and that now we have to worry about fake news and alternative facts, and about what he tweeted and what she said and what they posted, and about who really believes anything anymore. And then there’s Hollywood. Don’t get me started.

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