Wednesday, March 21, 2018


"After the final no, there comes a yes,
And on that yes, the future of the world depends."

These words were penned by the great American modernist poet Wallace Stevens in the year 1942 as collection of poems first published under the title; "The Well Dressed Man With a Beard".  The story of how Stevens became a poet is worth a blog post unto itself, as he didn't first start to write poetry until his forties, after being educated at Harvard as a lawyer, and working as an insurance company executive for the early part of his career.  And the rest of the poem by Stevens is equally prophetic and poignant:

No was the night.  Yes is this present sun.
If the rejected things, the things denied,
Slide over the western cataract, yet one,
One only, one thing that was firm, even
No greater than a cricket's horn, no more
Than a thought to be rehearsed all day, a speech
Of the self the trust sustain itself on speech,
One thing remaining, infallible, would be

If I could write poetry like that, I would quit my day job too!

However, since it is less than two weeks until Easter, Stevens' words have been echoing in my ear as the best definition of Easter, the resurrection of Jesus, a description of the life of Jesus that I can come up with.

I just put my 1.5 year old son Ewan down for his morning nap.  He has been struggling all morning with a bit of a cold, as his little nose drips like a faucet which runs into his mouth.  He has been tripping over things, a little cranky, a little agitated - poor little guy.  It has been a morning of "no's".  "No, don't draw on the table."  "No, don't hit the dog."  "No, don't throw the remote controls."  And so, I decided to just put him down for an early nap.  As I tucked Ewan into his crib with a warm bottle, and his snuggly blanket, you could sense excitement from him as he hunkered down for a "long winter's nap."  It was the comforting "Yes" after a morning of "No's".

"After the final no, there comes a yes,
And on that yes the future of the world depends."

Some of my best friends are not Christian.  When I speak with them, they often tell me that the whole Bible is just one long series of "Do's and Don'ts".  When they say this they point out all of the Old Testament passages that delineate rules and regulations from the ancient world (the Ten Commandments, the Levitical Codes, the ways that God cracks down on early people like Noah's friends).  With this line of thinking I can never really offer a countervailing argument.  They are right, there are a lot of "No's" in the Bible.  But then there comes a great and wonderful "Yes", in the person of Jesus Christ.

Jesus was the ultimate Yes.  His life was an affirmation of the intrinsic value of humanity, and God's love for it, God's desire to save it.  The kinds of things Jesus said were mostly Yeses.  Jesus' most famous sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, can be thought of as one big long string of Yeses.  The "Blessed Are's" can all be turned into "Yes to's":

"Yes to the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."

"Yes to those who mourn,
for they will be comforted."

"Yes to the meek,
For they will inherit the earth."

And, of course, Jesus said some "no's", but they were always said in love.  To the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, "Neither do I condemn thee (YES), go and sin no more," (John 8:11).

And Jesus is the yes that comes after centuries of definitive "no's".  Early civilizations, from the Egyptians to the Persians to the Phoenicians to the Greeks, all offered the world a handful of lasting contributions, and yet most of their cultures were defined...

Wait, I think I hear Ewan waking up from his nap....

Will this be a moment for No or Yes?

Who knows?

All For Now,


Thursday, March 8, 2018

How Miracles Happen

It was a windy, blustery morning in May, as clouds hovered low in the quaint college town of Oxford, England.  Spurts of rain would randomly slap the face of by-passers who walked the cobbled streets, and ducked below rock-built archways, late for class or a bite to eat in a cafeteria.  It was a Thursday, and the normal course of the class schedule for students was winding down, as evening galas were prepared for the weekend.  Tuxedos were being measured.  Champagne was being chilled.  A medical student by the name of Roger, not a student of the University, had just finished his shift in a local hospital.  He rode the morning train in to Oxford.  His first goal was to meet up with some old friends for lunch at a nearby pub.  And then, a miracle happened...

Roger Bannister had woken up that morning with one goal on his mind - to make history, to change the world, to test the fates of mice and men - to run a mile in less than four minutes.  It had never been done before, though some had come close.  The year before, the Swedish runner, Arne Andersson almost broke the four minute barrier by running a mile in 4:01.6.  In 1945, another Swede, Gunder Hagg, made the same attempt but failed.  Some said it couldn't be done.  And then a miracle happened...

Some of Roger's friends had thought that it was a bad idea to attempt the record breaking feat that morning because of weather conditions.  And yet, still, 1,000 or plus people were willing to take time off of their busy collegiate schedules to see if history could be made.  To see if the vaunted four minute mile could be achieved.  Most experts at the time, if there really were any by modern day comparisons, wouldn't have put their money on Roger Bannister to break the four minute record.  In the words of a great modern day runner and friend of mine, Jamey Gifford, who ran competitively for the Stanford University cross country team, and who racked up an impressive array of medals in his own racing days; "When you look back on Roger Bannister, in many ways, he doesn't seem like a terribly significant athlete.  His elite career only lasted a few short years, he never won an Olympic medal, and he held the world record in the mile for a mere 46 days."  But still, a miracle happened...

As Roger flung himself, chest full of air, arms flapping and body collapsing, he literally threw himself across the finish line.  His time was 3:59.4.  The crowd who had gathered there erupted in jubilation at the announcement of the news.  A miracle happened...

What made it a miracle?

It had never been done before.  Bannister was the least likely of people to accomplish this feat.  He only ran 28 miles of training a week.  He worked full time in the medical profession.  He had a big lunch before running.  He retired almost immediately after his running of the race and breaking of the record.  It occurred in a somewhat obscure place, on a random track in a seemingly insignificant byway and backwater of the world.  When you think about Olympic fame and track and field records, Oxford is probably not the first city that comes to your mind.

Several years ago, I was studying for my Doctorate with Fuller Seminary at a college in Oxford (St. Stephens College).  When class let out, to give students a leg stretch in the middle of the morning, I went outside and walked down the street to the corner.  There I found a street named Iffley Road.  It was a nothing to write home about.  And yet, somewhere in the recesses of my memory, I recalled the name, Ifflley Road.  There before me was a black gravel track and a small parade stand.  This was the place!  This was the place that on May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister broke the world record.  This was the place where a miracle happened...

Having been a pastor for about 20 years now, I have seen my share of miracles.  I have witnessed people getting healed who you would never expect to get well.  I have seen churches rise up in places where no-one thought churches could be built.  I have seen communities come back to life again after years of moribundity and abject poverty.  I have witnessed couples who were headed for divorce, figure out ways to keep their marriage together.  I have seen people who were addicted to drugs and alcohol find ways to lay aside their vices and take up the cross of Jesus.  I have seen miracles happen.  And when they do, they never announce themselves beforehand.  Miracles never walk up and say, "Something great is about to happen."  They just happen.  They just occur.  They occur in the lives of ordinary, common, hard working people.  Usually, it is only after they have occurred that you realize that history was made.

Last week, Roger Bannister, who broke the four minute barrier died at his home at the age of 88.  He would go on to live a distinguished life and contribute mightily to the field of mental health and medical awareness.  His life, it must be said, was complete when he died.  He seemed to do everything that a person could hope to do in the span of eight decades.  And yet it wasn't the eight decades that he will be remembered for.  It was the sub-set of four minutes.  And that's...

How Miracles Happen...

All For Now,