I talked to a man today about Mother Teresa's "Come Be My Light," the recently-published collection of the the late Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu's private writings to her confessors. I had read some of the man's thoughts on the Internet and I wanted to speak in depth with him about the meaning of the writings which Mother Teresa had so strongly petitioned not to be made public.
During our conversation, the man told me that 'Come Be My Light' teaches us to be realistic about our spiritual strugggles and doubts -- "If Mother Teresa could experience them, then so could we," he said. "The stronger your faith," he added, "the more likely you will be subjected to attack by doubt."
What struck me most during our conversation, though, was this: "I have been grateful for Catholicism across the years. I'm grateful for the Church's traditions and for its liturgy. Much of my own spiritual formation has come from reading Catholic authors such as Henri Nouwen."
This man who so highly praised "Come Be My Light," who is so taken with Mother Teresa and her intimate relationship with Christ, and who is thankful for Catholicism and what it has meant to him over the years is Dr. Jim Denison, Pastor of Teaching at Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas. And lest I forget: from 1988-94, Pastor at First Baptist Church of Midland.
Denison is the real deal; someone who feels he can learn from anyone -- regardless who they are or where they attend church -- and is gifted with the ability to teach as many people who will listen. And plenty do listen. Seven years ago, when he was on vacation during the Christmas holidays, Dr. Denison told me he began writing a spiritual journal. One thing led to another and someone mentioned to him that he should make his writings available to a wider audience. So he placed an item in the Park Cities church bulletin and asked members to sign up if they were interested. In a matter of days, 500 had sent in their email address. That was the year 2000. Today, GodIssues is subscribed to by 10,000 and church research shows it is forwarded an additional 20,000-30,000 times a day.
Wow. That is using new media to the fullest.
Denison said there was never any outside marketing or promotion to spread the word about GodIssues.
Denison's email journal usually arrives in my box about 8 every morning. He begins each day by noting something from the headlines of a major national news agency, and he will often tie in the stories of the day with a spiritual reflection. The messages of this Baptist preacher cut across denominational boundaries, tear down close-mindedness and simply spread the Gospel and how we can learn from it, all of us, regardless how we fill in our "Religious Affiliation" blanks. After all, that's how God intended it, isn't it? God's word is God's word. The churches that followed and the denominations that were formed were all created by merely mortal (and mostly well-intentioned)men.
I am and have always been passionate about the need to learn from people of all faiths. My Christian way of practicing and yours may be different, but neither of us are wrong. You may have an altar call every week and I may confess my sins to a priest and enjoy the smell of incense during Advent, but neither of us are wrong. Your preacher may stand behind a crystal pulpit and my priest may genuflect behind an altar, but both of us do it the way which best suits us. We are both practicing as we have been taught by those who came before us and we are both working toward a common eternity. Were we all to practice this way of thinking instead of just saying we practice it, we'd live in a better America.
Jim Denison lives what he preaches. He spent almost an entire month of GodIssues focusing on Mother Teresa's book, a period of time which shows me just how important its contents are and how we can all learn from it. As he says, the book is not a quick fix, it is not pop spirituality, not "Seven Ways to Make Yourself Happy" stuff. Reading it is not unlike reading the text of a conversation between Christ and Mother Teresa. And it is easy to see just why spiritual leaders of many faiths today say that it could eventually go down as one of the most influential spiritual books ever written.
Next: More about "Come Be My Light," and more thoughts from Jim Denison, who says hi to everyone in Midland, by the way.
Subscribe to GodIssues by visiting GodIssues.org. Visit Denison's Web site at GodIssues.com.