Monday, April 25, 2016

The Prince and The Bard

This past week, the world lost two truly great artists.  On Thursday of last week (April 21), the world lost a musician named "Prince", who died at the age of 57.  And on Saturday of last week (April 23) the world lost the a great playwright, who died at the age of 52 - 400 years before (1564-1616) - named  - William Shakespeare.   Is it just me, or do both Prince and Shakespeare have the same facial hair (I digress...)?  This blogpost will be about the latter artist's death, and more specifically, Shakespeare's connections to Christianity.  Perhaps 400 years from now, another blog-writer will want to reflect on the life of "Prince".

I can still remember my high school AP English class.  It was a Friday afternoon and because the AP exam was just around the corner, our teacher, named D.L. Smith, was trying to drum into our heads that William Shakespeare was not a Christian but a Humanist.  "Shakespeare did not believe in God - Shakespeare was totally secular - Shakespeare hated the church - Shakespeare's content was non-Christian to the hilt," I can still hear my English teacher say, as he pounded his podium, right before the lunch bell rang out.  However, these twenty-five years of experience and living and education later, have shown me that nothing could be further from the case.  As a more notable English professor, Leland Ryken of Wheaton University, has recently written - the idea that Shakespeare was not a Christian is; "a great lie".

William Shakespeare was baptized at Holy Trinity Church in Stratford-upon-Avon.  Later, as a playwright and actor in London, he attended church regularly.  While living in London, he rented a home on Silver Street which was owned by a devout Huguenot (French Protestant) family.  Huguenots back in the day were like Southern Baptists today - they did not hide their religion from the public.  Throughout "The Bard's" life (by the way, he never went by the "artist formerly known as 'The Bard'"), he regularly participated in church services as both a lay rector and a lay reader.  Because Shakespeare loved the church so much (and also probably because he could afford it) he chose to be buried right next to the altar in the church in Stratford, rather than being buried in the cemetery outside the church.  Here are the words of Shakespeare's will that he drew up himself right before he died;

I commend my soul into the hands of God my creator, hoping and assuredly believing these the only merits of Jesus Christ my Savior to be made partaker of life everlasting.

Shakespeare's plays and sonnets have hundreds of Biblical allusions in them, and draw from around 42 different books in the Bible.  Here is one of my favorites; "Shall I keep your hogs and eat husks with them?  What prodigal portion have I spent that I should come to such penury" (As You Like It).  This is, of course, a reference to the story of the Prodigal Son.  And later in that same play, "Here we feel not the penalty of Adam" (As You Like It).  

My favorite example of how Shakespeare was Christian and how he influenced the course of Christianity in profound ways, is how he actually most likely wrote himself into the King James translation of the Bible.  Most scholars believe that there may be a secret genogram-code in the King James Bible which, it is widely thought, Shakespeare helped to translate.  Bear with me as I describe this.  The King James Bible was translated between 1604 and 1611.  In the year 1610, Shakespeare was 46 years old.  Many people think Shakespeare, given his poetic sensibility, helped to translate the book of Psalms.  In Psalm 46 of the King James Bible, at the beginning of the chapter, can be found the word "shake" ("Though the waters thereof roar and be troubled, though the mountains shake...").  And at the end of the chapter can be found the word "spear" ("He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear...").  Shake-Spear.  No one knows for sure if this is true or not, but it is beyond probability and coincidence that this would have occurred naturally.  It also points to the sometimes questionable translation points, though always extremely poetic, qualities of the King James Bible.

Why does it matter whether Shakespeare was a Christian or not?  It matters because Shakespeare is, hands down, one of the most influential writers in the history of the English language.  I matters because the compendious amounts of work that Shakespeare was able to compose had to have influences beyond this world and life.  It matters because great ideas don't just come out of the stratosphere, they come from God.  Or as Shakespeare himself said, "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy (Hamlet)".

All For Now,

Or Should I say...."All's Well That Ends Well"


Monday, April 18, 2016

Around The World In 80 Sundays

This past weekend was Mission Street Church's 80th worship service in the Edwards Movie Theater in Camarillo.  It will also be our last in that location.  Next week, we will be moving to a temporary summer location that is less expensive in Newbury Park (a town just south of Camarillo), at the Monte Vista Presbyterian Church.  And so this is a bit of a reflective moment for all of us, a culminating event, a transition place, a temporary seat on a log by the side of a hiking trail.  And it is an opportunity to reflect upon some of what God has done in the movie theater.

When the ministry began, some 80 Sundays ago (Oct. 26, 2014), we began with an an out of the box idea.  What if we video record all of our services, and post those recordings on the web (Facebook, Vimeo, Website)?  We didn't know if anyone would be interested in watching them, or worshipping with us, but we figured that it was at least worth a try.  The theater was not ideal for worship in many ways (pink neon lights outside, no time to talk to people after worship because of tear down needs).  But it WAS ideal for another purpose - video and music recording.  The walls of most theaters are lined with thousands of dollars of sound treatments, so it is very much like a professional recording studio.  A professional videographer named Robb Klein from Orangetree Productions (and who has done work at Universal Studios), offered his services for the endeavor.  What we discovered was remarkable.  Quite literally, we went...

Around the World in 80 Sundays

Because of modern day computer analytics, we are able to know the countries and the states of where people watch videos from.  We also know the amount of time that people log onto our website from.  This last detail is important because if a person was logging on for, say, one minute, chances are they were just looking at the times of our services.  If they were logging on for 30 minutes or more, they were most likely watching a weekend message (sermon).  Within a week of putting our worship videos on the web, we found that people were logging on for 30 minutes or more from the following countries...


And many more countries around the world, and states within the United States.  And so, each week as I have begun my message, I have looked into the camera and welcomed those who were watching, from whatever country they were watching from:  "This morning we want to say hello to our video watchers from Romania, we pray that you sense the Holy Spirit where you are, the way we do here in Camarillo, California).   This international focus at the beginning of the message has also helped our own congregation's growth in several ways.  First, it signals to all who are in the room (theater), that there are others watching and that they are a part of a larger worldwide congregation.  It also focusses our church on mission without ever having to say the word "mission".  The third thing it does, and this is kind of funny, is that it keeps everyone on best behavior.  It's like inviting an outsider to a dinner party - nobody tends to tell as many bad jokes when the turkey is passed.

God has done many more great things in our 80 weeks of ministry in the movie theater (baptisms, communions, memorial services, services of healing).  But the video ministry of Mission Street Church will always loom large in my fond memory and appreciation.  We went

Around the World in 80 Sundays.

I recommend that your church try the same idea.  It doesn't cost much but it reaches many.  We will continue next week at the Monte Vista Presbyterian Church in Newbury Park (3797 Lynn Rd) at 4:45 on Sunday afternoons.  And we will continue the video ministry;-).

All For Now,


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

My Outlander Moment

Have you ever had the experience of being in a place that you had never visited before, but somehow you knew that you had been to before?  Have you ever walked down a street, sat in a room, been in a car, driven down a road, entered a restaurant or a chapel that you were altogether immediately familiar with, but you had never frequented?  That was my experience this past weekend.

There is a new television series on STARZ cable television called "Outlander", in which a character named Claire Randall, who is a married World War II nurse in 1945 is transported back to Scotland in 1743, where she becomes embroiled in the wars of Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Highland Clearances ("Outlander" is definitely adult television by the way, so I am not endorsing the content of the show but the plot).  This past weekend I was transported back in time.  It was my,

Outlander Moment

On Sunday afternoon, I had the great opportunity, after the Mission Street Church worship service in the movie theater, to travel to San Francisco and preach at the San Francisco Theological Seminary Stewart Chapel, and to teach a workshop on "Entrepreneurialism and the Ministry".  From 1935 until 1959, my great grandfather, Jesse Baird, was President of San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS).  My grandfather received his Master of Divinity degree from SFTS.  My father got his Doctor of Ministry degree from SFTS.  There is a "Baird Hall" which is named after my great grandmother - Suzannah Baird.  I had never really been to the seminary before this weekend (the above picture is of me before preaching in Stewart Chapel).  And yet, somehow I had been there before....

When I arrived in San Anselmo, where the seminary is located, at 10:30 at night, the street lights were covered in mist, and almost looked like gas lamps from the 1900's, which would have been installed in the streets there.  There was a stillness in the air, a calm, a quiet peace that was transporting and somehow otherworldly.  I almost imagined my great-grandfather, Jesse, emerging from a plume of mist, with his pence-nez glasses perched on the end of his nose, and his teaching papers in a leather satchel around his shoulder, walking pensively home after a long board meeting.

The next morning, when I woke up, and walked up the steps from my apartment to the chapel, I imagined my great grand-father, who had preached there weekly, making his way up the winding stairway as he went over his sermon notes in his mind.  Ten minutes before speaking, I got a cell phone call from my wife Star, who was checking to see how I was doing.  I decided, on the spur of the moment, to take the call.  I slipped out behind the alter area, and out a back door.  How many times had my predecessors done that before (not for cell phone calls, but for some other last minute conversation).  When I ascended the spindled steps of the pulpit to begin to preach, and placed my hands on either side of the lectern, I noticed grooves where a previous preachers hands had grabbed many years before.  Who's hands were they?  Who's grooves were they?  My hands fit in them perfectly!  This was getting weird...

My Scottish mother, who hails from the non-ministerial side of my family always said; "Why is it that we as Christians believe in the Holy Spirit, but that we don't believe in other spirits."  There were spirits in this place, that I could sense and feel and was aware of.  They were good spirits, of a time gone by and an era which has passed, but which now still remains...and is very much alive.

King Solomon who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes, as he was peering over parapets of the castle that his father king David had once peered over - said of this life that; "What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again, there is nothing new under the sun" (Ecc. 1:9).

Perhaps what Solomon didn't recognize was that in experiencing things backward (in our Outlander Moments), we may find...that there is always something new to behold!

All For Now,


Monday, April 4, 2016

The Difference One Wrong Turn Can Make

Did you know that both the first World War and the second World War might have been avoided had a driver not taken a wrong turn?  The story goes like this (recounted in beautiful detail in Margaret MacMillan's fabulous new book, History's People.)

The date is June 28 of 1914 - and the place is Sarajevo.  The heir to the Austrian throne, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was visiting this rural hotspot, on a sightseeing tour, even though he knew that Serbian nationalists were fomenting a coup against the Austrian government.  June 28 was a particularly dangerous day to visit, since it was "Serbian National Day" - (equivalent to Cinco De Mayo in Mexico where many people shoot off guns as a part of the day's celebration).  Most of the worst worst agitators had already been rounded up as a part of the royal security for the day.  Only one man - Gavrilo Princip - remained at large.  Princip was hanging out on a back street.  Franz Ferdinand's car, being driven by a chauffeur (a driver), was trying to get to a big celebration planned for that day.   By mistake, the driver turned down the wrong street - right in front of Princip.  He made a wrong turn!  Realizing his mistake, the driver brought the car to a halt, and clunkily put the car in reverse.  In those days, before automatic steering, such automobile reversals were no small feat.  The car went "clunk, clank, clunk...."  At that moment, Princip stepped out and shot the Franz Ferdinand and his wife at point blank range.  The rest, as they say, is history.  The death of Archduke Ferdinand gave Austria the excuse to attack Serbia.  Germany backed Austria-Hungary.  Russia backed Serbia.  World War I was afoot.  Most historians agree that World War II was really a carryover from World War I.  All because of - one wrong turn!

This morning I want to write about:

The Difference One Wrong Turn Can Make

Today's New York Times has a cover article about the Bernie Sanders campaign (I use this example not to endorse but to illustrate my point).  The title of the article is, "Early Missteps Seen As a Drag on the Sanders Campaign".  The article goes on to say that the reason that Bernie is not in a more significant position against Clinton because of seemingly very small decisions early on in the campaign.  In early 2015, Sanders insisted on devoting time to his job as a senator instead of campaigning around the country.  According to Ms. Sanders, his wife, "We didn't run all over the nation last year.  we spent  every week in the Senate, and every weekend on the race for president."  She recognizes now that it should have been the other way around.  It is...simply put...

The Difference One Wrong Turn Can Make

I have a friend who is currently serving time in a Federal Penitentiary.  For all of his life, he has struggled with substance abuse in various forms.  Most of these struggles have surrounded alcohol.  One day, at a party, my friend was introduced to a much more addictive substance - methamphetamine (Crack).  The addiction soon became full blown, and his whole life became a spiral downward.  At a weak moment, and because he needed extra cash to support his habit, he robbed a bank.  Convicted of this crime in Federal Court, my friend has already served a twenty year sentence, which is now only half over.  Had he not tried that drug at that party, who knows how his life might have been different.  It is...simply put...

The Difference One Wrong Turn Can Make

Like all of us, I have made many wrong turns in my life.  Luckily none of these have ended in the precipitation of a world war, or were in any way illegal in nature.  But I have made many small but significant "wrong turns".  The undergraduate college I went to was a bit of a "wrong turn" (I won't name the exact one).  It wasn't a bad institution, but it simply wasn't the right fit for me - and so it was a "wrong turn" which set me off on a different and less helpful trajectory than I had previously been on.  I have had friends in my life that were "wrong turns".  I have had taken jobs in my life that were "wrong turns".  I have made financial decisions that were "wrong turns".  At one point I thought that I might have a career in acting, but looking back on it, that would have been a "wrong turn".  The ministry was and is the "right turn" for me.

Now, the point is not to beat ourselves up about "wrong turns".  We are all human and all of us make them.  But it is simply to point out the importance of very small decisions.  Recognizing the importance of small decisions can help us to better understand and have compassion for the world around us.

The other day, I was driving home from work and I saw a homeless man by the side of the freeway asking for money.  I gave him what I had with me -  a handful of coins in my change holder.  But as my hand touched his, I wondered what small decisions he might have made, which were "wrong turns" that might have contributed to him being in the place where he now was.  He might have thought that his whole life was a mistake, but maybe it was only one small but significant thing.

And the same premise works in reverse as well.  Very small decisions and choices can make a great difference in a positive way as well.  The change in a child's diet (to eat healthy foods) can make all the difference about their overall performance in school.  A single caring person, calling at exactly the right moment, can alter a person's entire life trajectory.  A book that we read (or a blog:-), at exactly the right moment for us, can change our whole world view.

All For Now,