Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Jesus of Narcissus

I have been thinking lately about how most people tend to see God as a kind of a reflection of themselves.  This "self reflection" of God takes many forms.  It ranges in everything from the image that we have of Christ, when we think of the person of Jesus (I used to live in Salt Lake City, Utah, and many of my friends who are from the major religion of that city used to see Christ as a blond haired, blue eyed super model), to the clothes that God wears (There is a cathedral in France that I visited once that features a statue of Christ wearing a full suit of medieval armor and carries a sword).  But most of all this tendency can be seen in the way that we sometimes see the challenges that we face as not just a mere hurdle that we must overcome, but a challenge to God - the creator of the universe.

I have a friend who often tells me that he is, "under spiritual attack."  Because I believe in spiritual attack, and that there are many other spirits in the universe (small "s" spirit), and in this world, that are other than the Holy Spirit, I often listen.  The conversation usually goes something like this.  "I believe I am under spiritual attack."  "Tell me about it."  "Well, I came into late work yesterday, and my boss told me that if I keep coming in late, he will fire me."  "I see, well how do you think this is an example of spiritual attack?"  "Well, because my boss knows I am a Christian, so I think he is just singling me out because of my belief system."  "Do other employees have the same problem?"  "I don't know, they never come in late."  "Ok....let me ask you a question.  Have you tried to come to work on time, and see if that changes anything?"  "Oh, so you are just like my boss - you are attacking me now too!!!"  (ugh:-).

You can also see this tendency in the names that people use to address God.  When I hear people pray to God with the phrase, "Jesus, we JUST want to thank you...", I often think that there is an attempt to bring Jesus down to be JUST a pal or a friend.  When I hear people pray, "Dear God," I sometimes wonder if there isn't a small part of them that wants to sanitize God, or antiquate God a bit.  As in, I wouldn't say to my wife, Star, "Dear Star, can I ask you something?".  If I did that she would think that I had done something really wrong.  All names for God, of course, fall short.  I often pray to "Father", which I am sure means that at a deeper level, I am in need of a comforting, strong, steady (and sometimes severe) figure who is God.

In Greek mythology, the figure of Narcissus, was, of course, a great hunter who was known for his beauty.  Greek myth tells us that Narcissus was the son of the river god named Cephissus, and a nymph named Liriope.  Narcissus was full of pride, and he shunned those who tried to love him.  Another god named Nemesis (and that is where we get the word for an arch-enemy - "nemesis") noticed how Narcissus pushed away all the people in his life who tried to love him.  So, Nemesis attracted Narcissus to a pool where, while looking into the water, he saw his face in the reflection, and instantly fell in love with that image.  Narcissus did not realize that what he was looking at was really only a reflection, and not a real person.  So entranced was Narcissus by his own image, that he was unable to leave the water's edge.  Eventually, so the myth goes, Narcissus lost his will to live.  He kept staring at his own reflection until the day he died.  And, of course, Narcissus is where we get the psychological term, "narcissism", which is a fixation with oneself, and ones appearance.

Where am I going with this blogpost?  Just this - the hardest thing for humans to do is to get beyond ourselves.  While we may not be so obsessed with ourselves that we decide to die beside the reflection of our own image, like Narcissus, most of us just have a very hard time moving beyond ourselves.  As Christians, we believe that the only way past ourselves, is not to say, "I'm not going to think about myself today."  That is an impossibility.  The moment we say this, we are thinking about ourselves, and it makes the problem worse.  The only way is to know and love a God who is different from us, who is bigger than us, who is stronger than us, and most of all is not - US.  If we make God into an alter-image of ourselves, we can find no ultimate salvation beyond ourselves.

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote the lines, "Oh would some power the gift give us, to see ourselves as others see us" (from,  "To a Louse").  What we believe as Christians is that our God has the power to not only see ourselves as others see us, but more importantly, to see ourselves as we see ourselves.  And to see beyond that.  And to love beyond that.

Every Sunday, I close the worship services that I lead in Goleta with a simple Benediction; "Go in the name of the God who loves you, even more than you could ever love yourself.  In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit."

And, at least in my own case, that is sometimes saying something:-)

What about you?


All For Now,


Monday, June 19, 2017

20 Minutes at a...Time

This morning, as the family was rushing off to their sundry summer activities, I was given the job of keeping an eye on Ewan, our 11 month old son [pictured above].  In case you haven't spent much time with toddlers lately, let me tell you, this is no small feat.  The moment Ewan is engaged with one project (the overtipping of a dog bowl, for example), he is off to another activity (the eating of dog food, for another example).  Basically, my goal as a parent is to keep Ewan engaged in some kind of activity for;

20 Minutes at a...Time

And so the morning goes.  One activity after the next.  20 minutes of block time.  20 minutes of crawl time, 20 minutes of eating time, 20 minutes of door stopper inspection time.  In a way, breaking the day up into smaller segments makes the whole thing easier.  If you are watching an 11 month old for 9 hours, all you have to do is come up with 24 different activities.

20 Minutes at a...Time

I have been reading a book on preaching by Will Willimon entitled, Undone By Easter.    In it, Willimon gives extensive thought about the ramifications of being human and the implications of living within a world that is bound up in small increments of time.  In his lecture delivered at Duke University,  Willimon reminded me that the philosopher, Immanuel Kant, said that; "everything in life is only for a moment."  After that moment passes, everything is simply, "it was", and no longer, "it is".  The fleeting moment alone is "real", everything else passes away.  Willimon also observed that the Gospel of Mark's favorite word is, "immediately" (Euthys - in Greek).  In the writing of the book of Mark, and it should be noted that that took place around 40 years after the resurrection of Jesus, John-Mark (the author of Mark), seems to think that everything to do with God is immediate.  Everything to do with Jesus is instantaneous.  Everything is momentary.  With Jesus, it was also;

20 Minutes at a...Time

One of my favorite commentators and speech writers, David Gergen, who served as an assistant to four President's of the United States, said that the most ideal length for a speech is 20 minutes.  "People's minds begin to wander after 20 minutes," said Gergen.  "And usually, that wandering of the mind goes to thoughts of [dare I say it]...sex".  This chestnut of wisdom from Gergen has really helped me to try to pair my Sunday sermons down to a more manageable length.  I would hate to cause people to sin, by the mere preaching of a longer sermon than necessary:-).  The human mind seems to be able to focus best in increment of;

20 Minutes at a...Time

The book of Ecclesiastes reminds us that; "There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens... a time to plant, a time to uproot, a time to weep, a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance."   And perhaps, in the larger scheme of things, those activities only last for a short season.

20 Minutes at a...Time

I would, of course, write a few more paragraphs here about the nature of time, except that it has already exceeded my 20 minute framework, and Ewan is onto another activity.

Immediately, EUTHYS!

All For Now,


Monday, June 12, 2017

A Story of Grace

Dear Fellow Blogpost Readers,

Its been a couple of weeks since I wrote a blog post.  Sorry about that!

I've been juggling many things lately, not the least of which is a move to another house which our family now finds ourselves in the middle of.  Also, I'm beginning the writing of my dissertation for my Doctoral project, and my book proposal (WITH) has now been submitted to the publishers.  Oh, and did I mention that school is now out for the summer.  To say that we are busy, in the Baird household, would be an understatement.

I was thinking about taking a couple of weeks away from my blog, but decided, that I missed not writing it, and several of you have contacted me that you have missed not reading my post.  Also, I did want to take a moment in the middle of all of this bustle to relate a real story of grace and kindness that happened to me recently.


So, it was a Monday morning, and my job for the day was to pack up several boxes and to take care of Ewan (my 10 month old for the day), before picking up the two girls from school.  Our garbage gets taken away every Monday, so I took the cans to the curb the night before.

About 10:00 in the morning I heard a knock on the front door.  I wasn't expecting any visitors, Ewan had just gone down for his morning nap, and so the knock on the door was a bit of a surprise.  When I answered the door, a man in a green jump suit with a patch that said, "City Sanitation Services" was standing there.  "Do you live here?" he asked.  "Yes, I do."  "Did you lose your wallet?"  I quickly frisked the outsides of my pockets and found that my wallet was, in fact, not there.

"Oh my goodness, yes I did," I said in a concerned voice.  "Well, here it is!" said the man standing in the door.  "I found it right next to the garbage cans outside, on the street and I wanted to bring it up to you."  The man in the green jump suit extended his huge, dirty, mitt-sized hand with my black wallet inside of it.  "Thank you SOO much," I said.  I couldn't believe my eyes.  Instinctively, I reached inside my wallet to offer the man a tip for his kindness.  "Oh, no, that's fine," he said,  "I'm just glad you got wallet back.  I've got to run!  I'm late in picking up the garbage cans today."  As the garbage man ran back to his truck which was idling on the curb, I yelled; "Ok, well thank you again, I can't thank you enough."

I was dumbfounded at this man's, this - "garbage man's"- kindness to me.  In a move of caution I quickly looked in my wallet to see that everything was still there.  Now, here's the thing.  As a child of my generation, I never carry cash.  But because I did a funeral the weekend before, and a generous parishioner had given me $100 for a funeral that I conducted, I was carrying a very large bill.  Incredibly, all of the money, my credit cards, and other personal items were still there.

Ever since the occurrence, what I am now calling "wallet-gate", I have been thinking about the immensity of the act of kindness that this kind garbage man had bestowed upon me.  Here is a man, I thought to myself, who was behind the ball in his morning duties.  He probably doesn't get paid more than $10 an hour.  And yet he took time out of his schedule to bring a wallet to the door of a person he had never met.  How easy it would have been for him to just take the $100 bill, and throw the wallet back on the ground.  How easy it would have been for him to ring the doorbell, leave the wallet, but not wait for me to answer.

And I confess that I have sometimes looked at people who perform the more menial tasks in our society with a slight heir of condescension and superiority.  But no more!  Whenever I see a "Sanitation Engineer" working hard at what he does in another setting, I will remember the extreme act of kindness that this perfect stranger showed me.

And I will also remember that no matter how busy I get, I should always have time to offer a simple and graceful act of kindness!

All For Now,