Monday, September 25, 2017

The Church Bells of Cholula

For over 500 years, the city skyline of the city of Cholula (pronounced "chilula") in Mexico's state of Puebla, has been silhouetted by a series of tall church steeples.  From the top of the ancient pyramids at the center of town, the spires look like spindled Christmas trees that rise up, from the base of an ominously perched volcano.  Many of these steeples were built around the time of the Spanish conquistador, Cortez, who, as legend has it, ordered that 365 churches be built, one for each day of the year.  The truth is there are probably only around 150 churches in this historically rural peasant city.  However, it isn't the steeples that will be missed after last week's 7.1 ricter scale earthquake hit that country.  It is the church bells.  What will be missed will be;

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... 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

That I Would Be Good

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

When 9/11 Becomes 1066

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

When Information Requires Action

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,