Sunday, October 15, 2017
Dear Blogpost readers,
I wanted to let you know that my family and I are all taking about 10 days to get some R&R while the girls are on Fall-break, for a bit of a family vacation. I will write again in this space on Oct. 30.
In the meantime, I wanted to share a great quote from C.S Lewis I found tonight while reading to Haley before bed. I was reading, "The Horse and His Boy" from, "The Chronicles of Narnia", to Haley, and this quote came along;
[Of the main character - Shasta]; "He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed, your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one." (p. 155)
From this great quote I take the idea that God gives challenges to us commensurate with the good work that we have already done. If a person hasn't done anything particularly good, God won't give that person more. However, if a person has done good things, more is coming...
All For Now,
Monday, October 2, 2017
Last week, at the Christian private elementary school where my two youngest daughters attend, there were a series of theme based days where the pupils were encouraged to dress up according to the fashion ascribed for that day. So, Wednesday was "Wacky Day", and Friday was "Sports Day" (I can't remember what Monday and Tuesday were, possibly "Normal Day" and "Mix and Match Day"). However, I do remember what Thursday was - "Spiritual Day".
Now, you would think that because I am a "man of the cloth" that helping my kids to figure out what to wear on "Spiritual Day" would be easy. It wasn't. What does a person wear on "Spiritual Day?" What do "Spiritual Clothes" look like? In earnest I checked my closet for possibilities. They could wear one of my clerical stoles that I sometimes wear in church...I suggested helpfully. No way! Smart girls. They could wear the clerical collar that I wore when I first started the ministry (sometimes known as a "dickey" or a "tabs"). Not on your life! Very smart girls. They could wear the tartan Yarmulke that I was given by my cousin when I helped perform the ceremony at her Jewish/Christian wedding. Nope.
Wisely my two daughters opted for something much more understated - a simple gold cross on Haley, and a skirt featuring the "flowers of the heavens" by Sheena.
But the arrival of "Spiritual Day" did make me think about what it means to dress spiritually in a modern context. As Protestants, we have mostly seen the garb that we wear on the outside as less important than the clothes we wear in our hearts. But not always. On the 500th Anniversary of Martin Luther's posting of the "Complaints" on Wittenberg's All Saints Church Door, we should remember that Luther dressed as a monk, even after he broke from the Catholic Church. Shakers women, an off-shoot of the Quakers in England, were known to wear white head coverings and white triangle shaped fabric around their necks.
The Puritans, who basically founded America, probably were the Protestant group who embodied the need to dress-up in a spiritual way more than any other. Puritans emphasized moderation in all things. They emphasized "inward ornamentation of the soul". In 1634, Massachusetts General Court banned the use of lace and some other adornments such as beaver hats. Interestingly, the color black is often associated with the Puritans, but most did not actually wear black, because of the expense of the black dye.
As I kid, I can still remember looking forward to getting dressed up to go to church. Before we left the house, my brother and sister and I would put on sports jackets and ties and Laura Ashley dresses. For us, "Spiritual Day" meant looking forward to looking our best.
Today, most people who attend church see it as a time when, on their day off, they want to wear whatever is comfortable. And good for them. For as the book of Proverbs says, "Those who do not study, are only cattle dressed up in men's clothes" (Prov. 94). Moo!
All For Now,
Monday, September 25, 2017
The Church Bells of Cholula
One resident, while reflecting on the loss of the bells themselves this past week said, "Without church bells, Cholula just isn't the same." Because of the earthquake, all but ten of Cholula's churches have been closed. Parishioners have been forced to meet outside in city squares or in public parks until the churches can be safely inspected. Hand held harmoniums have taken the place of pipe organs, card tables have replaced church altars.
In ancient times church bells served more of a function than simply offering music to residents of the city. The church bells would ring during times of natural disaster, to warn residents to find shelter. Church bells would be "peeled", as the English would say, to announce the wedding of a local couple, or "tolled" when a member of the church had died (Hemingway most likely got the idea of the title of his famous novel, "For Whom the Bell Tolls" from the church bells that he heard in Spain, during the Spanish Revolutionary War). Church bells would offer joyful "bings" and "bangs" and "bongs" on Christmas day, to announce the birth of the newborn Savior to the world. I will never forget hearing the tolling of the church bells of Notre Dame in Paris, ring for the death of Pope John Paul II. Not anymore.
The Church Bells of Cholula...
...do not ring.
In her book, "The Nine Tailors", novelist Dorothy Sayers (a friend of C.S. Lewis) used the bells of a local British congregation to determine the perpetrator of a murder, discovered by the Lord Peter Whimsey. The bells, in this case, were rung in an English fashion by a talented handful of local residents who saw their duty to ring the bells as important a job as bringing in the wheat sheaves during the harvest. The same ardent attention to the ringing of bells in Cholula must have been carried out by generations of local farmers.
It is difficult to say when the church bells of Cholula might eventually be refurbished and deemed safe once again to ring out in that city center. There are, surely more important tasks at hand in the rebuilding of all of Mexico's infrastructure once again. Schools have to be rebuilt, workplaces have to be renovated, and most sadly of all, the 300 people who died in that earthquake have to be laid to rest. For those who have died in this tragedy, however, no church bells will mark the toll of their death. Because,
The Church Bells of Cholula
have, for the moment, gone silent...
All For Now,
(background research for this blog has been provided by Carrie Kahn of NPR news)
Monday, September 18, 2017
Sometimes the best Christian songs are not intentionally Christian at all. This is a truth that I recently rediscovered when I was speaking at a church in San Luis Obispo (Midstate California), and had to drive home to Oxnard where I live (essentially the north rim of LA). Normally this driving trip would only take three hours, but because of traffic and other factors, it took me five to six hours to drive home. However, none of these hours were in the least bit wasted or unpleasant. The reason is because of a song I heard by one of my favorite popular singers, Alanis Morrisette. I played this song, and this is no hyperbole, repeatedly during this trip at least 100 times in a row. The tune is mesmerizing. But what I am most transfixed by are the lyrics of this song. Here they are:
That I would be good even if I did nothing
That I would be good even if I got the thumbs down
That I would be good if I got and stayed sick
That I would be good even if I gained ten pounds
That I would be fine even if I went bankrupt
That I would be good if I lost my hair and my youth
That I would be great if I was no longer queen
That I would be grand even if I was not all knowing
That I would be loved even when I numb myself
That I would be good even when I am overwhelmed
That I would be loved even when I was fuming
That I would be good even if I was clingy
That I would be good even if I lost sanity
That I would be good
Whether with or without you
For me, this song embodies a central truth of the Christian faith. And, tempted as I am to not try to explain the lyrics in Christian terms, because all great pieces of art should speak for themselves, let me offer a few examples of the Biblical parallels.
At the beginning of creation, God creates the heavens and the earth, He separates the water from the dry land, He creates all living things, and God calls them all, "good". And then, God creates Adam and Eve in His own image, that is, God puts a little bit of himself in all human beings, and He calls them, "very good". So, this song lifts up the intrinsic "goodness" of all people.
And, then, of course was the Fall. And because of things we have done, or things that have been done to us, or because of things that are left undone, all of us is "Fallen". All people feel, as Alanis Morissette does in this song, that somehow we are not "good". Whether because of, as the song goes, "gaining ten pounds," or "bankruptcy", or, "not being all knowing," or "numbing ourselves" with any number of the panoply of the world's body numbers, we do not feel "good".
And yet, "goodness" is the promise of the cross. What we believe is that Christ returns "goodness" (and I like the word "goodness" better than "greatness") to all who believe in Christ's "goodness". That by believing in Christ's great sacrifice, we can all, once again, become "good", no matter what happens to us. We believe that we can, once again, call ourselves even better than "good", but "children of God".
But, as I said, better to let the song speak for itself.
All For Now,
Monday, September 11, 2017
It would be hard to mark the exact moment when a current event becomes a piece of ancient history. However, this morning, at the Christian school where my two daughters were celebrating "Patriot Day" (the picture above is of my 5 year old daughter Sheena wearing red, white and blue on "Patriot Day") I think I recognized that juncture regarding 9/11. Sept. 11, 2001 is, of course the day when, 16 years ago, two planes were intentionally steered by a handful of religious extremists into two of the tallest buildings in the world, killing 3,000 people. For those of us who are middle age - I am 45 - this date will always be seen as a current event. But for anyone born on or after 2001, all of my kids for example, 9/11 is ancient history.
When I asked my daughter's excellent kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Graham (no family relation, that I know of:-), how she would explain the events of 9/11 to her class, she smiled and said, "I think I will stick to the story of Cain and Abel this morning, that will be easier to explain." Fair enough, they are only kindergarteners!?! And are the two stories really all that different?
Recognizing this rubicon of 9/11 moving from a current event to ancient history has made me think about the number of other important dates in history, either tragic or victorious, that have made similar transitions.
On Oct. 14, 1066, the Norman-French leader, William - the Duke of Normandy (known to every English prep school student as "William the Conquerer"), vanquished the Anglo-Saxon king Harold Godwinson at the famous battle of Hastings. That date will, to paraphrase the American President FDR, "live on in infamy". But here's my question for the morning. What about 16 years after the battle of Hastings in 1082, did children who lived in England still remember the battle of Hastings as a current event, or did it become ancient history?
On May 8, 1945, as returning GI's to the United States stood in the streets of New York, kissing their war-brides in a moment of joy and elation, the West officially celebrated the end of World II in Europe. For those who were there on that day, and there are still some people alive today to tell the story, it was a current event, and always will be. But what about 16 years later, in 1961, did the children of war survivors still feel the same elation, or had the moment passed into ancient history? My own father, who was in high school at the time, remembers his friends all beginning to grow their hair long, and wear bell-bottomed pants, and listen to music of Joan Baez - all whipping up a head of steam about another looming American war - the Vietnam War.
On May 28, 1972, the day and year I was born, my mother still remembers watching the Nixon Watergate trials on their Sony black-and-white TV in Laguna Beach, California. The fall of the Nixon administration under the weight of corruption and scandal of that epoch will always be, for her, a current event. For me, however, I see Watergate as ancient history. I was just a baby. And, 16 years later, I was sophomore in High School, in 1988, listening to Bobbie McFerrin sing, "Don't Worry, Be Happy", on my walkman cassette radio.
When does a current event become ancient history?
When does 9/11 become 1066?
The answer is simple! The moment the next generation comes along. And that, as the poets would say, is a good thing. Each generation defines for itself what its focus will be. In this way, the movement of history, from one event to the next, has a kind of healing and palliative effect. Today for my kids is just a day when they wear "red, white and blue to school" on - Patriot Day.
For for me, and I suspect most of those reading this blogpost, this will always be...
All For Now,
Monday, September 4, 2017
The other day my wife Star was heading out the door to work when she said to me, "By the way, the dishes in the dishwasher are clean. Love you, Have a good day." After I dropped the girls and Ewan off at their respective schools, I continued to mull the information that Star had given me before she had left the house that morning. "By the way, the dishes in the dishwasher are clean..." Was Star telling me that the dishes were clean as a kind of practical bit of data for the day (like, the weather's going to be sunny and overcast, the 101 freeway is closed)? No, not likely. Was she telling me the dishes were clean because she didn't want me to put new dirty dishes in the dishwasher? Possibly, but there seemed more to it than that. Finally, it came to me. She was telling me the dishes were clean because she wanted me to unload the dishes in the dishwasher. It may have taken me 17 years (we just celebrated our 17 year wedding anniversary on Friday), but I have finally begun to understand the subtle codes that define a healthy marriage. Star was giving me;
Information that Required Action
After I unloaded the dishwasher, I began to wonder how many of the statements of Jesus were possibly also examples of:
Information Requiring Action
Most of Jesus' large proclamations are, on their face, just informational tidbits. "I am the light of the world," "You are the vine and I am the branches," "I am the resurrection,""The kingdom of God is like a mustard-seed,". These can be read simply as descriptions of the nature of Jesus as God or the nature of the kingdom. But what if Jesus was saying them to require a sort of action in anyone who heard them? What if when Jesus said, "I am the light of the world," He was really saying, "and so go spread my light, and your light to the rest of the world." What if when Jesus said, "I am the resurrection," He was not just giving us information about who He was, but that He expected all who listened to Him to go and live resurrection lives? Sometimes;
Information Requires Action
To add to my theory that most of Jesus' informational statements were calls to action, think about the often repeated phrase that Jesus says again and again after he makes these informational proclamations. After making pronouncements, He almost always would say; "He who has ears, let him hear." The word HEAR in Hebrew is an essential component of faith. It comes from the word SHEMA, which refers to the most important text for the Hebrew people, "HEAR (Shema), O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." (Debt. 6:4-5). The word HEAR (Shema) is directly connected to the command to love. Hearing is a call to action to love. The person who hears acts!
So then the question in my mind becomes, why do we sometimes give other people information when we are really just requesting action. Why, in Star's case, didn't she say, "Hey, would you please unload the dishwasher?" One thought is that it is a kinder more subtle more dignifying way of asking for help or action. Rather than saying just, "Do it!", by offering information it allows the person hearing it to have the option of acting or not acting. It gives the one who is being requested the action a sense of autonomy. When Star gets home later today, I might just say, "Hey, I didn't know if you wanted me to or not, but I unloaded the dishwasher." And she just might say, "Wow, thanks, you read my mind (wink, wink)."
And God does the same for us. When on a cross, Jesus looked down upon the world and said, "Forgive them Father, for they know not what they are doing," Jesus was also making one last informational call to action for all of us. We are also supposed to forgive. But it is up to us. God won't make us take action. But He will give us the information.
All For Now,
Monday, August 21, 2017
Like many of the rest of you, I have been captivated for the last couple of hours at the partial solar eclipse. From our house in Oxnard, California, which is usually overcast with coastal fog in the morning, there has been a rare break in the clouds so we have been able to see the intergalactic wonder with all of its "finger-nailed" splendor. What I have been equally interested in is the split/screen television coverage that has taken place simultaneous to the 99 year annual event. On all of news stations covering the event are other news stories that are taking place that seem of equal, if not greater importance (an Afghanistan troop buildup, a US Navy ship that has broadsided an oil tanker, a terrorist in Barcelona has been shot, an American Presidency that seems to be in peril). And so, the world turns...
The message seems to be that as the skies have a miraculous event taking place, as a once in a life time event occurs, so does life move on.
As the World Turns
Of course it wouldn't be the first time that people on earth are more caught up in the regular day to day events, than the spectacles that have lit up the skies.
* One wonders if in 1,500 BC, in the land of Egypt, as frogs were leaping out of people's bathrooms, and locusts covered the skies, and blood ran red in the Nile River, if there weren't people at beauty parlors getting their hair done for an evening dinner party that would take place. People had things to do, and places to be.
* In 3AD when an odd, and out of the ordinary "star" appeared on the horizon in the small town of Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, historians tell us that the emperor of Rome, Octavian (Augustus), was vexed by Germanic troops (terrorists) that were coalescing on the northern edge of the empire, in the Teutoburg Forest. Augustus was, at that moment, of Jesus' birth and the star's shining, planning for a Roman troop buildup in an unruly part of the world
As the World Turns...
* In 79AD (though Tacitus records the event as having happened in 63AD) when people in the small town of Pompeii, at the base of Mount Vesuvius, were finishing their morning breakfasts, plooms of smoke and ash began to emerge from the huge summit that dwarfed the city, and later covered it with molten lava. People had things to do, places to be.
As the World Turns...
No matter what the cosmic events of our lives, the main theme from those who live on the planet earth has always seemed to be that life moves on, events continue, time moves forward, the activities of our lives commence. But will they? But do they really?
I do not think, as some of my religious friends do, that the full solar eclipse is an omen of the end of all things. Eclipses have come and eclipses have gone. But who knows?
As Robert Schuller, the late pastor of the Crystal Cathedral once said, "I always bet a million dollars with my friends who say that the world will end. If I win, the world goes on and I am a million dollars richer, if they win, the world comes to an end, and who cares, I am in heaven!"
But for now, the world continues to turn!
As the World Turns
All For Now,