Thursday, July 12, 2018

Just Follow the Basic Recipe


Lately, because my wife Star is now working, and our kids are in a myriad of daily activities, our family has been eating a lot of pre-prepared meals from Trader Joes.  These pre-prepared meals are a far cry from the pre-made TV dinners that were around when I was a kid.  Some of these meals require a few basic steps before the meal is made.  Most of them are quite simple to put together, and relatively healthy to eat.

Now, at this point, I should probably say that my back-up career plans have always been to be a chef. While I have never had formal cooking training (though I would love to some day), I have worked as a sous-chef in a restaurant when I was in college and worked for various catering companies to prepare meals for some pretty high end entertaining (preparing a meal for former Vice President Walter Mondale comes to mind, for example).  And, as a side note, I always give people advice to have a backup career plan (but that's another blog post).

So, whenever I put a pre-prepared meal into the frying pan, on a frenetic weekday night, to be honest I always feel a little "guilty" or "dumb".  Because of my own false sense of ability in cooking, and my pride, I feel like "this simple meal is beneath me".  So, a couple of nights ago, when making a Chinese stir fry, the recipe called for simply heating up the meat, then putting in the frozen vegetables, then putting in the sauce.  Simple.  But because I was trying to impose my own culinary prowess at this moment, I thought to myself, "What if I just add a little garlic, and then some fish sauce, and perhaps some shallots, and then a bit of Cayenne pepper, and perhaps some ginger and bamboo shoots to spruce it up."  30 minutes later, and a kitchen full of cutting boards, knives, discarded remnants of garlic shells and ginger coverings, I had an....ABSOLUTELY DISGUSTING dinner!?!?!

Star, my wife, took a bite of it, and said, "this is awful, what did you do to it?"  I said, defensively, "I just tried to spruce up the recipe a little, and add a little flavor, to give it a little extra color, and texture."  Star said, while spitting out a mouthful, "well, you certainly accomplished your goal.  Let's get takeout." And she was right. It was pretty bad...

This tendency to want to throw in my own take on whatever is required of me in life, could actually be a description of my life.  When asked to preach a basic sermon, I sometimes say, "What if we spruced it up, and tried to make it better?" (sometimes to the detriment of the text or the Gospel).  When I have been asked to lead a meeting, sometimes I have said, "What if we don't just have a regular meeting, what if we have a super meeting?" (sometimes to the detriment of just the normal routine of getting a task accomplished).  What I am saying is that often I have erred in life when I didn't....

Just Follow the Basic Recipe

And what I have been wondering is if I am not alone.  What if all of us, to some extent or another tries to spruce up our lives with all kinds of things (extra stuff, nice cars, super big houses), when all that we really need to be happy is to...

Just Follow the Basic Recipe

What if a lot of the sin-behavior that we engage in (drinking too much, sex outside of the boundaries, business deals that put those around us in risk, gossiping about others, slandering or hating our neighbors) really boils down to the same problem.  What if it is a part of human nature to not...

Just Follow the Basic Recipe

That was really Adam and Eve's problem.  God gave them a good life.  He gave them supremacy and responsibility over everything in the Garden of Eden.  But the first humans weren't good with that.  They wanted to spruce up their lives.  Add a little flavor.  Add a little color.  And so, they ate from a tree that they shouldn't have.

Jesus said, "Come to me all you who are weary and burdened, I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt.11:30).  Maybe what Jesus was really saying in this text is that all we have to do to find rest and peace in this life is to...

Just Follow the Basic Recipe

And now, I'm going to the freezer to get out a frozen burrito for lunch.  Maybe I'll refrain from making a Zabbayon Sauce to accompany it...

All For Now,

GB

Friday, June 22, 2018

Out of Egypt - An Immigrant Story


Over this summer holiday, I have been reading an incredible book called, Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt.  It is Jesus' first person account of his early life, as narrated and beautifully written by the queen of, yes, "vampiric novels and screenplays" and all things bloody - Anne Rice.  Apparently Rice is a Christ follower, or at least interested in the things of Christ, and her book reads as compellingly as any narrative I have read about the early life of Jesus.

What has struck me, at this interesting juncture in history, as immigration and human rights once again come to the fore (when 2,300 children and counting have been separated from their parents at the border of Mexico and the United States), is that Jesus and his family were, of course, immigrants.

Rice does a better job of annotating Jesus' early life, than I will be able to in the context of this blog post, but Jesus and his family fled the Holy Land when Jesus was about two or three.  They then became immigrants, and had to flee to the nearest country that would accept them.  Egypt was the best and closest answer.  And so the Holy family fled, political oppression, human rights violations, murderous rampages by an insane dictator named - Herod I (self-named Herod the Great, as all megalomaniacal leaders are prone to do).

This brings the life of Jesus into a much larger light when we consider that when he was just a child he most likely cast eyes upon the pyramids of Giza, and the Sphinx, and would have beheld the great library in Alexandria with his own eyes, before it burned to the ground in 270AD.  Jesus would have experienced the wonder of domesticated cats, and men of society who wore eye makeup like king Tut (but I digress).

Egypt, of course, plays figuratively into the entire history of the Bible, as a place that readily accepted and embraced the immigrants of the Holy Land, going back to the time of Abraham; "Now there was a famine in the land.  So Abram went down to Egypt to sojourn there" (Gen. 12:10).  This extends to the time of Jacob and his son Joseph, and subsequent sojourn of the family there,;"'Why do you just keep looking at each other?  I have heard that there is grain in Egypt.  Go down there and buy some for us, so the we may live and not die" (Gen. 42:1-2).  Egypt, it would seem, for about a 2,000 year period, had a very porous border with neighboring countries, allowing immigrants to enter and exit, for the most part, without harm.

Move to the time of Jesus.  And now let us ask a question?  What if Egypt had not accepted immigrants from neighboring countries whose people were facing political oppression?  What if the Holy family had been turned away?  What if the family had been separated, with half of them going to a prison for adults, and Jesus and his brothers and sisters (yes, Jesus had siblings, Joses, James, Judas, which Rice does a nice job of elucidating) to a separation facility for children?  What if the Holy family had never been able to reconnect with one another after separation?  What if Jesus had had to be raised by prison guards and immigration authorities?  The questions boggle the mind.

Here are my last set of questions.  What if another prophet or great leader is among the children who are now being housed in separation facilities?  What if another great leader (like Moses, another Jewish castaway who had beginnings in the land of Egypt), is now in the slavery of a chain link fence or cell, withering away with the heat of indifference and injustice?

Who knows the answer to these questions.

As a student of history, I know that truly great countries, like Egypt, Rome, even Great Britain, have always found a place for, "the least of these" (Matt. 25:40).

All For Now,

GB

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

An Axial Moment


The late great philosopher and political theorist, Karl Jaspers (bear with me a moment, I have a larger point to make), once wrote about "Axial Civilizations".   Jaspers wrote about the fact that there are certain civilizations in the history of the world, that became so-called axial (pivotal, fundamental) moments in the future of global civilization.  What I want to reflect upon in this blogpost, is the power of an - "Axial Moment."  That there have been certain moments in history which played axial (pivotal) roles in the future of the world.

One of these axial moments is - June 6!

For example, on this very day, just 74 years ago (June 6, 1944), 160,000 Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy in a battle that would later be called "D Day" - in order to force an extremely significant thrust in the prolonged effort to push back the Nazis and to win the Western Campaign of World War II.  Nine-thousand American troops died on this very day, for our country, just 74 years ago.  Those brave souls who gave their lives, climbed the beach heads, under extreme pressure from the Nazis, only to die upon those white sands.  To become the "flowers of the forest", and fallen heroes, as later poets would write.

On this same day, just 50 years ago (June 6, 1968), a US Senator named Robert F Kennedy, the brother of the late President John F. Kennedy, was shot and assassinated in the kitchen of a hotel, named "The Ambassador", in Los Angeles, California.  Just after Robert Kennedy bellowed the words from a be-chisseled hotel podium; "Now it's onto Chicago, and let's win there", a lone gunman (as far as historians know) shot the young senator multiple times, leaving him limp, only to die on a cold, commercial, kitchen-floor.

What to make of this convergence of historic events?

What to make of this...

Axial Moment?

Not sure exactly!

Except to say that many young people have fought for the betterment of this country, only to be cut down too young, and too soon.  Also, that life is fragile.  And that these liberties of ours (freedom, truth, independence), these liberties that we keep, were not (to paraphrase Shakespeare's play Henry V), "purchased cheap".

Perhaps another reflection is that in both of these axial moments, there was a stated aggressor (Sirhan Sirhan in the former case, and the Nazis in the latter), there is an example of a violent perpetrator and a victim.  And that the would-be victims stood-up to, and ultimately vanquished their opponents - not through sheer force alone, but through good will, vigilance and the test of time.

Finally, I guess it makes me sad, from the standpoint of a person living in the year 2018, 74 an 50 years later, to know that though we have progressed in many ways, in so many more, we have miles and miles yet to travel.

Where are we as a country on June 6, 2018?

Is this another...

Axial Moment?

All For Now,

GB



Friday, May 18, 2018

The Order of Time


Not long ago, our family spent about a week or so in La Jolla, near San Diego, for Spring Break.  While we sat by the beach and watched the waves lap upon the shore, it quite literally seemed, for that moment, as if - time stood still.

And as it turns out, according to a recent book by Physicist Carlo Rovelli, in actual scientific terms, that might have in fact been the case.  In his new book, "The Order of Time," Rovelli, surmises that time actually moves faster on the tops of mountains than it does near the flatlands, or ocean.  New clocks have been developed, using nuclear magnetic imaging, which make it possible to detect these finite differences in time.  The concept is an extension of Einstein's theory of the relativity of time, that time responds to the gravitational pull of large masses.  The earth is a large mass.  The closer that a clock, or a person for that matter, is to the earth, the slower time moves.  In very real terms, a person who lives near the ocean ages less than a person who lives near the mountains.  Looking back on it, the time my spent in Colorado Springs, around 6,033 feet above sea level, did seem to move faster than my time spent in Oxnard, at sea level.

Of course, the idea of the relativity of time is not a new idea.  The Bible tells us that, "A thousand years in your sight are like a day the has just gone by, or like a watch in the night," (Psalms 90:4).  By this description from the book of Psalms, apparently time moves faster for God than it does for humans.

Most people forget that the whole notion of time itself was invented by monks who were trying to figure out how to pray with more regularity, "The first mechanical time devices appeared in late medieval monasteries.  Bells driven by weights called monks to the hours of prayer" (Subversive Spirituality, L Paul Jensen, p. 37).  It was the invention of railroads, the transcontinental railroad in America, for example, that necessitated the standardization of time.  Previously, each town and city had its own clock and those clocks were very far from synchronized with one another.  But I digress....

Rovelli's book, the content of which I haven't yet read myself (though I have reviewed several articles and listened to several podcasts about Rovelli), reveals that the notion or idea of time is actually totally a construct of our imaginations.  Rovelli says, "We never see time, time is not something we can see or smell or taste or touch.  All we are able to do is to watch clocks which measure time."  Rovelli has even gone so far as to take the integer of time "T" out of all of his equations.  Rovelli says that time is  totally a mental construct.

Rovelli says that most people have this idea that the past and the present and the future are three different things, totally different from one another.  However, physics is showing us that the difference between the past and the present and the future are all relative.  Once again, this seems to reflect the thoughts of the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible, "Generations come and generations go, but the earth remains forever.  The sun rises and the sun sets, and hurries back to where it rises" (Ec. 1:5-6).

Reflecting further upon this Rovelli says that, "The only difference between the past and the future is the amount of disorder which lies ahead."  In other words, the way to tell the difference between this present moment and the future moments are that in this moment, we know exactly what is happening.  For example, I am typing this blog at this computer right now.  What will the future hold?  Will there be future blogs?  We don't know, because the the definition of the future is that it is disordered.  Again, Jesus lifts this up in the famous Sermon on the Mount, "Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself (or in Rovelli's terms, "the future has enough entropy." (Matt. 6:34).

If you are like me, this momentary convergence between the thinking of one modern day physicist and the Bible are head scratching and heartening at the same time.  Perhaps the real lesson in all of it is, we should all spend a lot more TIME...

At the beach!

All For Now,

GB




Thursday, May 3, 2018

Reveal


This past weekend I led a mens retreat for Burlpres (First Pres. Burlingame) at the Valambrossa Retreat Center in Menlo Park (pictured above).  It was a great retreat entitled; "Braveheart: Every Man Dies, but Not Every Man Really Lives."  We discussed a lot of really important topics like the difference between healthy risk and unhealthy risk, the role of work in our lives, the role of accumulation, and life in Christ.  But what will remain with me is less what I taught from the front, but what I learned from the other men.

One gentleman, at the end of the retreat, when we went around the room to share what we had learned or gleaned from the retreat said; "The word that keeps coming to me is - REVEAL."  He went on to say that what he had learned was that, "Real soul health begins with the courage to be able to reveal ourselves to one another.  And then, the goal is to be able to reveal ourselves to ourselves." Wow, I had sat through many seminary lectures on soul healing and soul growth and had heard much less wisdom from the so-called "experts in the field.

Not too long ago a man in his mid-sixties came to meet with me in my office.  After about 30 minutes of discussion about small, seemingly insignificant topic matter (the weather, the Giants, the Warriors), I asked, "So, what's on your mind?"  He took the cue, and paused, and then said, "I've come to a decision in my life, that it is now time to retire.  I have never used the "r" word out-loud with anyone else, but I feel like it's time for me to start to make plans to re...re...re....retire."  After he said this, he began to cry.  I asked him what was going on with him?  He said, "It feels good to finally say it, and now that I have said it, it doesn't seem like it will be such a hard thing to do."  This man had revealed his soul to me, and then, and in the process, he had revealed his soul to himself.

Self-Revelation of our souls to others is, it must be said, not always a good thing to do.  Unless we find someone that we trust with our thoughts and processes, it can be a dangerous thing to do.  Also, very often, we do not know what we ourselves are thinking about something, and so the words that come out of our mouths when we reveal ourselves with others are actually quite inaccurate.

When I was growing up as a teenager, and I would come home at the end of a long day at school, I would almost always be upset.  "I don't like school,  I don't like the kids, I don't like where we live," I would tell my mom.  She would then ask, "Did you each lunch today?"  "No," I said angrily.  "Why don't you eat a burrito and then let's talk about it."  After eating, of course, I would feel much better about the entire world.  Sometimes the things that come out of our mouths do not REVEAL what we really think, but how we really feel in the moment.

An expert in Small Groups ministry (Dr. David Augsburger) once told me that it is actually quite unhealthy to share our most intimate thoughts with any more than two or three people in the entire world.  So, you really don't want to encourage your small groups in churches to REVEAL themselves to each other.  It's too much for most people to process.

But we can reveal our hearts to God.  That, in the end, is the best definition of prayer!

All For Now,

GB

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Edge


If you are a fan of rock and roll music, then you know that The Edge (ne David Powell) is the name of the famed lead guitar player for the rock band, U2.  However as I have thought about the secret to great teaching, whether in a classroom or a boardroom or a pulpit, over the years, The Edge is what I have determined is also the key to great teaching.  All great teachers have - The Edge.

What do I mean by The Edge?

All great teachers have a compelling force that comes from the inside that sets them a part from just someone who is giving a discussion, or sharing a thought, or communicating a principle.  The Edge can be a nondescript energy.  This energy can sometimes be mistaken for annoyance or being perturbed.  The Edge often comes from the fact that the teacher has a lot of complex information, or a difficult concept, that they want to communicate in a way that is life changing.  The Edge is conveyed to a class or a room of people in the notion that the teacher will not have accomplished his/her main purpose for the lesson, unless everyone in the room gets it.

Who are some teachers that I have known over the years that have The Edge?

Mr Erickson (sixth grade teacher, Hawthorne Elementary School, Boise, Idaho)
As we came into the room that bright day in early September, Mr. Erickson, our new teacher for the year had us line up against the wall rather than sit in our assigned desks.  Spitting words at us like a Gatling Gun, Mr. Erickson said, "This is not going to be a normal class.  This is not going to be an easy class.  You are going to be challenged this year in ways that you have never been challenged before.  But after it, if you listen and you learn, you will find that you are a different person."  One of my friends raised their hand in an attempt to clarify what Mr. Erickson meant by 'challenge', but then thought better of it and hid his hand behind his back.  I will never forget my year with Mr. Erickson.  That year we learned about Hydogren Chloride, the 'jell mass' of Shampoos, and many other things.  Mr. Erickson had - The Edge.

Professor Adrienne Christiansen, Macalester College, class on The Rhetorical Tradition
The class that boring morning was focussed on a discussion of Platonic f'orms' and their differences with Aristotelian 'forms'.  A student raised his hand, "Dr. Christiansen, it seems to me that Plato and Aristotle are very similar.  Both Greek philosophers, both concerned with classification."  Professor Christiansen answered, "Actually nothing could be further from the truth.  Plato talked about a higher form, Aristotle was just concerned with writing every single classification down."  I never received higher than a C grade on any paper or exam that I turned into Professor Christiansen.  She wasn't always nice to me.  But she had an indispensable, undeniable force that compelled her teaching from within.  She had - The Edge.

Dr. Charles Ryerson, (Princeton Seminary, class on Hinduism and the Christian Context
As we sat in our tables in Templeton Hall, Ryerson began, "I don't know what any of you learned in college.  I mean, honestly, some of you I wonder how you even got accepted to this seminary.  Christianity is not some set of rules or Bible texts or principles.  It is who you are, deep within you, a context that was deeply embedded in your whole world outlook."  I would later travel the Indian subcontinent on a research scholarship given by and mentored by Dr. Ryerson.  Before I sat under the tutelage of Ryerson, I never knew much, or to be honest, cared much about India.  Now it is one of my favorite countries in the world.  Mr. Ryerson had - The Edge.

Rev. Earl Palmer (West Coast Pastor's Conference, Mt. Hermon, California)
From the front, "I am so delighted to be looking at St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippian Church over the next few days together.  We have lots of material to cover, so it is best, perhaps, if we just dive into it.  On the Monday after Palm Sunday, Jerusalem was abuzz with an uncomfortable disease."  Rev. Palmer (pictured above) is and was one of the greatest teacher/preachers of his generation.  I did an entire paper on the writings and teachings of Palmer for my Doctorate at Fuller.  I literally picked a part, piece for piece, countless sermons that Palmer gave.  In short, he is inimicable (un-copyable).  But what I discovered is that what made Palmer's preaching/teaching great was not so much his words, but his force.  Palmer had - The Edge.

All great teachers must have The Edge

One last thing.  The Edge cannot be manufactured, or affected or pretended or replicated.  You either have a deep desire to communicate a singular truth or you do not.  Teachers who try to pretend like they have it often come across as being simply "mean" or "strident".  However, if you ever have the opportunity to be taught by someone who has this miraculous gift, you can be changed for the better for a lifetime.

All For Now,

GB








Wednesday, April 4, 2018

A Dream That Was Bigger Than He Was


What is the biggest dream that you have for your life?  Maybe your dream is to be famous (a rock star, an author, or an actor).  Perhaps your dream is to live a happy life (your kids are fulfilled and healthy).  Some others may have a dream to make enough money to retire early.

I have moved through various dreams for my life as I have gotten older.  When I was in high school, my dream was to be in politics, maybe a senator or even higher.  Then, I got to college, and my dream was that I might go to broadway and be a singer in a show, like Les Miserables, or Phantom of the Opera.  After college, my dream was to go into International Relations and work in a foreign embassy.  Then there were the dreams to build a "mega church" like Robert Schuller or Rick Warren. Now, my dream is mostly to build a healthy church that HELPS people, and to raise a family that has internal strength and fortitude.  But to be honest, most of the dreams of my life have been about ME.

Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of a man whose dream it was to live in a fully racially integrated society.  A place where, "one day there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers."  This was the dream of one African American pastor named, of course, Martin Luther King Jr., who was shot on the porch of his hotel room in Memphis, Tennessee, on April 4, 1968.

What is remarkable about Dr. King's dream, in hindsight, is how huge and how bold and how grandiose and how large it actually was.  We take for granted today that it is possible to have a president of the United States who is an African American, or to be able to go to any college you want to as long as your grades are good enough, and you have the financial means.  But back in Dr. King's day, that wasn't the case.  South of the Mason Dixon Line, as they say, separate bathrooms were commonplace, separate restaurants, separate stores, separate neighborhoods.  America was deeply divided.

To compare the radical audacity of racial integration in the South (and North) to Dr. King's dream in 1968 would be to compare it to some of the current massive calamities that our world faces.  A modern day version of Dr. King's dream might be one of the following:

"I have a dream...that one day every child on the face of the earth will not go to bed hungry at night."

"I have a dream...that one day malaria and other mosquito born illnesses, which kill millions of people around the world each year, will be eradicated."

"I have a dream...that depression and other psychological illnesses that people face, will be a thing of the past."

"I have a dream...that the United States will never again have a mass shooting ever again."

"I have a dream...that there will never again be a war that involves religious differences between people."

"I have a dream...that there will never again be a war!"

You fill in the blank....how big of a dream can you come up with?

What may be missing from the modern psyche is the ability to dream large...dream VERY large.  There have been dreamers in the past.  There have been the William Wilberforce's who dreamed of eradicating slavery from Great Britain.  There have been the Louis Pasteur's who dreamed of, among other things, a world without rabies and anthrax.  There were the founding fathers of America who dreamed of an experimental country where a democratically elected and Federalist system could actually replace a monarchical system.  But where are the dreamers today?

What is the seedbed of great dreams?  Courage, obviously.  Altruism.  Audacious, irrational optimism and tenacity.  A crazy idea that is so big that you are willing to lay down your life for it.

And perhaps most of all, the dream that you might have, will be larger than your own life.  That is, if you were to die, in the middle of the completion of that dream, as Dr. King did on that porch in Memphis, Tennessee, that that dream would go on, and carry forward and progress a little more day by day.  And of course there is work to do.  But the dream still exists.  As Dr. King put it, until the day when we are...

"Free at last.  Free at last.  Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

All For Now,

GB