Jeremiah, the Ultimate Optimist

Growing up in New Jersey, across the Hudson River in New York City is the home of Marble Collegiate Church, a congregation of the Reformed Church of America. As a youth I remember watching their pastor, the Dr. Norman Vincent Peale on television. Peale also founded the popular devotional guide, Guideposts read by millions of people.

But more than anything, Dr. Peale was known for the phrase, "The Power of Positive Thinking". In fact one his best selling books had that phrase as its title.  There is something attractive in such an expression.  It is clear the power of negative thinking is just that, "Negative". We have all been with groups and individuals that are so negative and cynical, we try to exit stage right at the  earliest opportunity and find the nearest shower.  Yet the marketing of the phrase seemed a bit pollyanna for me in the midst of the negative influences that surrounded us then and now.

The key issue is the source of the hope that underlies such optimism.  Some see the hope coming from our circumstances. Others would suggest, hope springs totally from within the individual. We might say that is a hopeful or optimistic person.  A third approach would suggest that ultimately all hope must spring from something outside our circumstances and ourselves.

After recently reading the book of Jeremiah, I became convinced the the prophet was the ultimate optimist. Say what?  "Optimist? Wasn't Jeremiah known as the 'weeping prophet'?"  "Didn't the king complain that he always had bad news for the him and the nation?" Indeed that is true. So what would qualify Jeremiah as the "Ultimate Optimist"?

First in spite of the fact the Babylonian Armies surrounded Judah and at any point could lay siege and dismantle Jerusalem,  God instructs Jeremiah in chapter 32 to invest in a family farm. And though this was no fire sale, where Jeremiah could buy low and later make a nice prophet, Jeremiah pays what might be a reasonable price for the field in in spite of the dire circumstances.  God in verse 15 gives the rationale for the purchase, "For this is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: Houses, fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land.". God had judged his chosen nation and they were about to suffer the consequences of their rebellion at the hands of the Babylonians, Yet God was not finished with his people. The parcel of farm land was a foreshadowing of what is yet to come.  Hope for the future is still alive. Hence an answer to the above question, hope is not anchored in the circumstances that surrounds us.  If it were the old Hee Haw song would be our chorus, "Gloom, despair, and agony on me Deep, dark depression, excessive misery If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all Gloom, despair, and agony on me."

Second, neither does our hope spring from within ourselves.  There are some days I am a cock-eyed optimist, while others, a doomsday prophet. My personal experience is like the Arkansas barometer on a spring day, when a sultry warm front is confronted with cold air arising from the Northwest. "Get to your safe place, a twister cometh! " Jeremiah 29 lays the foundation of our hope, when the prophet brings to the people a word from God.  "For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile." (Jeremiah 29:11-14) Our hope is anchored neither from our circumstances, nor from within our personal experiences, but hope is ultimately rooted in a Word that comes from God to us and carries us through the darkness into his light. Therefore in spite of all outward appearances, Jeremiah is the ultimate optimist.

 

Black Marks on White Paper

Davis Deer Camp

Davis Deer Camp

“In a tiny seed lies the potential for a forest”

 

The idea for Tiny Seed Blog has its roots in 1998 at the Davis Deer Camp in South Arkansas, when I was first introduced to Bennie D. Warner. He had been appointed District Superintendent of the Camden District in Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. I was a pastor in his district and the meeting was a get acquainted time for those who would serve under him. It was there he shared his story of how a tiny seed grew into a bountiful forest.

Bennie D. Warner

Bennie D. Warner

His story begins as an eight year old in a poor Liberian village.  A visitor comes and makes Black Marks on White Paper and delivers a speech from his notes. This experience engendered a desire within Bennie to read and write. This burning desire became fulfilled 8 years later when he enrolled in a mission school in Gbanga and was given a work study scholarship.

The Missionaries who ran the school became foster parents for Bennie. They helped him not only gain a secondary education, but provided him an opportunity to receive a college degree and graduate degrees in eduction and and theology. Returning home, he served the Gbanga mission as principal and pastor of the mission church. Despite economic, educational and social challenges, Warner grew in influence through his election as Liberia's United Methodist Bishop and in 1977 as Vice President of the Republic of Liberia upon the death of his predecessor.

In 1980 while Warner was in the United States for a church meeting, there was a military coup in Liberia with the President and most of the cabinet were executed. Warner was advised not to return home as "they had a M-16 with his name on it." Warner became a man without a country. Yet in his indomitable way he decided, "God is calling me to be a missionary to America." Warner has spent the last 37 years fulfilling his childhood vision in the pulpit and classrooms of the U.S.

I will never forget that day at Davis Deer Camp. After I retired from pastoral ministry in 2009, I pursued taking film courses at Arkansas State University. After producing a short film for a graduate documentary class, my appetite was whet. 

During a reflective moment, Bishop Warner's story seemed the obvious next step.  Black Marks on White Paper took over two years to produce. It premiered in April of 2013 as a part of the Ozark Film Festival in Batesville, Arkansas. Over the last 4 years, the film has been seen by tens of thousands of people through screenings, DVD, VOD and most recently was broadcast on Arkansas Education Network, the PBS affiliate for the state.  The end of the film comes full circle in 2009, as Warner returns to his native village and promises to provide a school for its children.  The School was dedicated in 2016. What a wonderful forest was built from the tiny seed given to an 8 year old.

If you have not seen, Black Marks on White, consider watching the film by clicking on the play icon in the middle off the photo below. Also, if you would like to receive notices of upcoming Tiny Seed Blogs, subscribe by typing your email at bottom of the page and by responding to an email, which will be sent you to confirm your subscription.

My mission is tell tiny seed stories of hope and transformation in culture filled with skepticism and cynicism.