Monday, February 29, 2016

The Ninth Planet

Sometimes you wake up in the morning and you discover that everything has remained the same from the day before: the same sun, the same moon, the same routines, the same old stuff.  Other times you wake up and the world/universe is completely different.  Recently, because of the research of scientists at the California Institute of Technology, it would appear that things in the universe have, "changed, changed utterly" (in the words of the poet William Butler Yeats).  Scientists have discovered a:

Ninth Planet

Yes, you have it correct.  Remember that model of the solar system that your sixth grade teacher had on his desk where the sun was at the center of the model and rotating axises of round balls could be moved around the sun to indicate different planet formations?  Remember where Mercury was at the center and tiny Pluto was at the edge?  Throw it away, it's obsolete.

There is a new planet in town.  It turns out that it is actually 10 times the size of the earth.  It is so large and it's orbit is so elongated that it takes around 10,000 to 20,000 years to orbit the sun.  But scientists are pretty sure that it is there - The Ninth Planet - dangling out on the edge of the solar system, like a giant bowling ball about to roll off of a table.

But why does it really matter?  Why am I writing about this at all in this Monday Blog post?  Why should we care?

It's just incredible to me that something so large and with such gravitas (indeed gravity) should be right under our solar system noses and that we just discovered it.  I had a therapist friend who once told me that, "none of us can see under our own hoop skirts".  In this case though, it is that no one on the planet earth can see under our own planetary horizons.

The interesting thing is that one of the reasons why we haven't discovered this planet until recently is because it is simply too big.  In the words of researcher, Mike Brown, "It's simply huge.  We can't see it but we know it by it's gravitational pull."

It begs the question of what other huge things there are out there that we are unaware of.  Are there fish lurking in our oceans that we are unaware of?  My Scottish superstitious mind goes to the Loch Ness Monster.  Is the world really round?  Is the sun really at the center of the solar system?  Maybe there's a bigger sun out there somewhere that is really our sun.  Again, in the words of Mike Brown, "There's a pretty substantial chunk of our solar system that's still out there to be found, which is pretty exciting."

Shakespeare once wrote, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy" (Hamlet).

For Christians we have the option of seeing the discoveries of the world as something to be either feared or welcomed.  The history of Christianity is rife with both examples and extremes.  When Galileo made the great proclamation that the earth was not, in fact, the center of the universe, but that the sun was the center, he was exiled to a remote island in the Mediterranean.

The Ninth Planet has not been named yet.  Perhaps, since Pluto was kicked out of the solar system a few years ago, we could name it Pluto Two.

Or call it...HORATIO...the Shakespeare character from the play Hamlet, whose own mind was boggled, like our own, about the vastness of God's universe and the depth of it's expanse.

All For Now,


Monday, February 22, 2016

Our International Trip

Several years ago when I was guest preaching at a church that had multiple worship services, and several different flavors of worship service at that (traditional, contemporary, blended, jazz contemporary), an older man who was an usher for the morning said to me; "Pastor, it looks like you are going on an...

International Trip

Indeed it did.  Carrying a suit bag over my shoulder with my pulpit robe inside it, and dragging behind me a small carry on suitcase armed with all of the essentials of a long morning of preaching (cough drops, a toothbrush and toothpaste, a granola bar, cologne, hand sanitizer, a pair of jeans and casual shirt for the contemporary service, a change of shoes, a Bible, a manuscript, bottle of water...Visene), it looked like I could just as easily have been breezing through the concourse of LAX airport as the Narthex of whatever church I was preaching in.  Preaching in a modern context requires adaptability in so many different ways.

But when I thought twice about the comment my octogenarian friend had made, I realized the basic truth of what he had said.  In a very real sense, he was correct in saying that going to church each Sunday morning was like going on an;

International Trip

To listen to a Bible reading from the book of Exodus is to be magically tele-transported from sunny Southern California (for example) to the arid, rocky desert of the Sinai Penninsula.  To hear the poetry of the book of Psalms is to go through a wardrobe portal and emerge on the other side in an ancient castle in Jerusalem.  To read the letter of Paul is to be lifted up as if by a great medieval griffin and dropped into the mountains of Turkey, or a boat on the Mediterranean, or a cobbled, dirty street in Rome.

And it isn't just the Bible texts that take us to different places.  The music and hymns on any given Sunday morning are also a passport book full of stamps.  Singing the song, "Joyful, Joyful We Adore Thee" takes us to a tiny town town in Austria where in 1824 Ludvig can Beethoven wrote the original version.  Belting out the lyrics of my new favorite worship song, "Oceans" takes us to a brightly lit stage in Australia where Hillsong is singing to a veritable "ocean" of out-stretched and raised hands.

And great preachers too, transport us to different places around the world.  One of my favorite Presbyterian preachers, Earl Palmer, recently preached a Lenten sermon in which listeners were instantly beamed into the last week of Jesus' life.  The message began with these words; "On the Monday of Holy Week, Jesus told a very short parable." Magically, the whole congregation were all placed at the feet of Jesus as he told one of his very last stories, an allegory of the kingdom of God.

So, where are you going this coming weekend?  What international, or perhaps intergalactical connection are you planning on making?  Will you have a seat by the window, or will you sit in the isle?

The one bit of advice I might give about taking international trips each weekend, to various places around the world, is that it definitely helps to travel light.  Bring less luggage.  Pack less stuff.

But that is a blogpost for another day...

All For Now,


Monday, February 15, 2016

Forgiveness Can Take Time

This past week, an historic connection and the beginnings of a momentous "reconciliation" began when pope Francis, pontiff and head of the Roman Catholic Church, met in person with Patriarch Kirill, head of the Russian Orthodox Church.  The meeting took place in Havana, Cuba, of all places, at a side room in the airport.  Wouldn't you have loved to have been a porter in the corner at that meeting?  The connection lasted a little over two hours, and thus began the end of a feud and a rift that began around 1,500 years ago.  Yes, you have it correct, it has been an almost 1,500 year row (1,569 to be exact) between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church.  This seemingly interminable amount of time between the cause of the conflict and beginning of reconciliation is the main focus of my blogpost this morning:

Forgiveness Can Take Time

In case you forgot what the original disagreement was between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church (the same way that many people forget that the original cause of the family feud between the Hatfields and the McCoys was a stolen pig), here is a quick rundown:

*  In 447, Pope Leo I, wrote a very mean letter to bishops in Sicily (a group credited with early seeds of Orthodoxy), rebuking them for doing baptisms on Epiphany rather than Easter.  This was a petty complaint.

*  In 589 a debate develops over whom the Holy Spirit proceeded from in the Holy Trinity (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).  Did the Holy Spirit proceed from just the Father, or the Father and the Son?"  Catholics have long held that the Holy Spirit was an integral part and individual person of the Trinity, while the Greek Orthodox Church held that The Holy Spirit was a personage that was simply from the Son Jesus - "Filoque - Latin for, "and from the Son".  Though it must be said that more nuanced clarifications of the roll of the Holy Spirit have subsequently been offered by both churches.

*  In 782, Emperor Charlemagne accused the "Greeks" of deleting the Filioque from the original Nicene Creed.

*  In 809, Pope Leo III forbids addition of the Filioque (reversing a previous decision by the church) to the Creed.

*  In 1054, a Catholic Cardinal excommunicates Patriarch Michael Cerularious.  Patriarch Michael returns the favor by excommunicating the pope who had caused the main problem (but who was actually dead at the time).  Tit for tat...

And the rest, as they say, is history...

These early disagreements have led to mostly frigid relations between the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church for this millennia and a half.  Yes, once again 1,500+ years.

Then, out of the blue, and propelled by a deep sense of desire to right the wrongs of previous popes and mend many different broken places in the world, Pope Francis offered a proverbial olive branch to the sitting Patriarch of Moscow, head of the largest Orthodox denomination in the world.  And the two leaders began the process of reconciliation between the two churches.

Forgiveness Can Take Time

One of the best classes I ever took in seminary, was a class offered by Dr. David Augsburger at Fuller Theological Seminary.  In the class Augsburger lifted up the sometimes tortuous and arduous path we must take through the process of forgiveness.  Forgiveness does not mean forgetting.  Forgiveness is not permission to do more wrong things.  Forgiveness does not right the wrongs of the past.  Forgiveness does not cover over past hurts.

Forgiveness Can Take Time

Forgiveness is a gift from God.  It is something that we participate in with the help of the Holy Spirit.  And on this first full week of Lent, it is good to remember that forgiveness is what Jesus offered all of us from the cross; "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing," (Luke 23:34).

Perhaps, it must be said, for many of us, though forgiveness can take time, it won't take us as long as it has the world's two oldest Christian churches...1,500+ years.

But as they say, better late than never:-)

All For Now,


Monday, February 8, 2016

The Coldplay Way

Yesterday's Superbowl Football Game In America (I need to say this because there are several people who follow this blog from other countries around the world), was memorable for two reasons.  First, it was an uncharacteristically great football matchup between two great football teams.  Second, and more importantly because it is the focus of this blogpost, the halftime show was one of the best I have ever seen!  It featured the band Coldplay, and two other major artists - Beyonce and Bruno Mars.  I was quite literally crying at the end of the show, it was so beautiful.

What was so stunning about the show for me, other than the musical genius behind the tunes and the creative brilliance of the choreography, was it's inclusion of several artists of different styles all in one twelve minute segment.  Coldplay, a standalone band for sure, was originally offered the twelve minute halftime show to do for themselves.  But they decided to do something different and unique.  They decided to make the show not just about themselves, as every other Superbowl artist before them has done, but about including other voices, other performers, other faces, other acts, and other bands which were representative of America as a whole.  They chose to make the show a sort of larger pastiche of America as a whole, rather than a focus on themselves as a band.

So, after about 5 minutes of Coldplay, the band Bruno Mars broke in with a hip-hop number.  Then, Beyonce and a group of dancers performed a breathtaking dance segment in stilettos (on football grass I might add), for another couple of minutes.  Then, the end of the show featured vignettes of other past performers at the Superbowl - U2, Bruce Springsteen, Katy Perry, Michael Jackson, The Rolling Stones, and many others.  This inclusion of others into the main performance of their own act is what I am calling in this blogpost...

The Coldplay Way

Inclusion and Inclusiveness has become a "dirty" and "loaded" word in most religious circles.  It often connotes a fluidity of doctrine, a vapid openness to all things, an insipid acceptance of all behaviors, and a saccharine laced embracing all ways of life.  It sometimes smacks of the 1960's and an "Age of Aquarius" in America where all things were "cool" and "groovy" as long as you were open-minded enough.  But I think in our attempt to offer rigid theological boundaries, and to separate ourselves from perspectives which we disagree with, we as a religious community have sometimes gone too far in the other direction and been too rigid.

My great grandfather, Jesse Baird, was a Presbyterian pastor as well, and served as President of San Francisco Theological Seminary in the 1930's and 1940's.  As President of the Seminary, he was quite a religiously doctrinaire person in most respects - no playing cards in the house, no dancing, no drinking, no pepper on the tables for fear that the spices would invoke strains of the devil.  However, at the same time, he was quite inclusive of other perspectives.  As overseer of who spoke in the seminary chapel, Jesse included Jewish rabbis, liberal Christian voices, and religious perspectives even more conservative than his own.  Perhaps a better word was ascribed to Jesse's ministry paradigm - "comprehensivism".  It was a notion that a person could hold a specific belief system while at the same time being open to other perspectives.  Modern psychologists would call this being "differentiated".

In psychological terms, rigidity is just as pathological as total openness.  A healthy person, or system, is permeable and porous while at the same time being a strong structure.

You see, truly confident and strong people do not need to be afraid of other perspectives which are different than their own.  They know what they believe, and yet they live in the same airspace as people who do not believe the same things.  People who are insecure or not confident cannot do this.  Any differing opinion or perspective or viewpoint from their own must be not only rejected, but separated from.  A truly confident band, like Coldplay, allows other people to be a part of the same act, to enjoy some of the limelight.

What's so remarkable about Coldplay's halftime show (If you haven't seen it, I encourage you to Google it and watch it on youtube), is that afterward, most people thought that the other artists - those who were included - Beyonce and Bruno Mars - actually outshone the main act - Coldplay.  But once again, that is what strong and truly confident people are able to do.  They are able to allow others to come on stage with them, and occasionally outperform them, because the goal of including other voices is of such great importance.  It's....

The Coldplay Way

All For Now,