Spiritual Journey Press
The Penitent Man

Like so many others, my family has relied on Amazon Prime and Netflix for entertainment during the Covid-19 pandemic. Having exhausted the supply of high quality television series and movies we wanted to catch up on, we now find ourselves viewing "B" quality, lower budget selections. I particular like to suffer through science fiction and time travel offerings. Over the past two weeks, I have watched every episode of four seasons of The 4400

This past weekend, Lois abandoned me halfway through The Penitent Man (2010), a low budget exploration of the consequences of time travel for our personal journeys and human history. The young adult protagonist, a psychologist who is enthralled with physics, is on the cusp of two major journey milestones that will forever impact his life - the discovery of a means to enable time travel, and the dissolution of his marriage. A mysterious elderly patient comes to his office and offers him counsel while revealing that he is from the future, where humanity has suffered the unexpected but tragic consequences of his inventions. Will the young man receive this warning and change the future by taking different actions? 

 A Reunion 

Today I participated in an online reunion of over a dozen people who had been commissioned to serve as American Baptist missionaries 20 years ago (on August 4, 2000). Back then, I journeyed alongside them for a few days at the pre-commissioning vocational training and orientation in Green Lake, Wisconsin (the ABCUSA national conference center), teaching them about spirituality and journeys based on Endless Possibilities. It has been a joy to keep up with many of them throughout these past two decades. 

At the conclusion of the Zoom conversation, I was tasked to share final thoughts. I posed the following reflection question, based on the movie: 

Now that 20 years have passed since your commissioning (phase 2), what wisdom, advice, warning, and blessing would “the 2020 you” give to your younger self if you could travel back in time? 

In response to that question, here are some personal musings. 

Spiritual Wisdom 

The deeper we travel into the future in fulfillment of our spiritual journeys and ministries, the more our past journey milestones long to be given voice and reveal their significance and meaning. 

This past week, I was reminded about a detail of my testimony. On the evening when I committed my life to Jesus as my Messiah and King, I discovered a peculiar and uncommon translation of the Bible on my older brother's bookshelf - a version known as the Peshitta. Utilizing Google Images, I came across a photo that portrayed exactly the color scheme of the hardcover book. On another website, I purchased from a used book dealer a copy of the version I would have held in my hands; the title is: The Holy Bible from Ancient Eastern Manuscripts Containing the Old and New Testaments translated from the Peshitta, the Authorized Bible of the Church of the East (Hardcover – January 1, 1957, by George M. Lamsa). 

When I receive it, for the first time in some 49 years I will be able to read the specific words I first discovered on Christmas Eve 1971 that precipitated my spiritual commitment to Jesus (from Revelation 19:11-21 and then Matthew 1:1-25). It moves me just to think about it! 

Journey Advice 

It really is true that each journey, both redemptive and missional, builds on the ones that have been previously completed. Faithfulness is rewarded with deeper and more significant journey responsibilities and goals. Our cumulative experiences anticipate future challenges and offer vital preparation for journey themes yet to be revealed. 

My current Holocaust research, scholarship and writing serves as an example for me in this regard. I would not have possessed the inner resources, life experience, or perspective to approach this area of history twenty or even fifteen years ago. But in the "fullness of time," the call emerged and has changed the direction of my vocation and life in general. Being in the right place at the right time is a spiritual journey facilitator! 

A Warning from the Future 

For some two decades, I have nurtured a dream and hope that God would permit me to retire early at or around 2020. I had several motivations behind the request. First, people in my family do not usually live to the century mark, and so I wanted quality time to pursue ministry dreams and personal passions after some forty years of pastoral and denominational service. Second, it has been my intention to demonstrate to my friends and colleagues that it is healthy and wise to voluntarily give up organizational power, even if one enjoys influence, status and is still effective and impactful in their work. How often have I referred to the core message of The Lord of the Rings trilogy - that giving in to the temptation to hold on to the ring of power corrupts even the good and the wise! Accordingly, I am grateful to God that I was able to voluntarily and officially retire from full-time denominational work on December 31, 2019 and begin retirement on January 1, 2020. 

God, however, knows the future far better than we mere mortals do! I now realize that God planned for me to retire when I did so that I could work to repair the physical toll my body had suffered from my workload. Up until the very week of my emergency heart surgery in September 2018, I was in denial about how close to death I was, and the successful procedure and its aftermath has caused me to reassess how I failed to appropriately balance my health needs and ministerial calling. And so the warning I would send back to my younger self would be: "No matter how enticing, important and compelling our journeys may be to us, we must be careful not to sacrifice our health in the pursuit of their fulfillment." Without good health, missional journey possibilities become limited. 

Similarly, our journeys should not be allowed to become idols, robbing us of family and friends. To be perfectly candid, my last full-time assignment (as I lived it out) gave me little opportunity for ongoing closeness with family or friends. The finest line in my retirement announcement letter I sent to our national spiritual family noted that even though "there are many spiritual leaders in American Baptist life," there is "only one father for Joshua," my wonderful and very special needs adult son. 

A Blessing 

Throughout the Scriptures, special occasions called for some form of benedictory blessing. So, at the conclusion of my reflection, I shared the following blessing. May it speak into each reader's journey as well! 

May God grant us grace, and may we give ourselves mercy, for God has the power to overcome and rectify our past journey mistakes and even failures, so that they shall not prevent us from moving fully into the future, with appreciation, faith and joy. 

Having accepted the wisdom, advice, warning and blessing from his future self (and with some assistance), the young psychologist in The Penitent Man makes sure to restore his relationship with his wife. He reminds her of a date they had in a park, where looking up at the stars in the evening sky, he exclaimed: "The possibilities are endless!" I couldn't agree more!

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