Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Benedict--Serving up Rule #2

St. Benedict breathes his last while in prayer, surrounded by his disciples.

I serve on a committee (which identifies me as a bona fide academic) seeking to understand the current state of spiritual life on our campus (Regent University.) That's a tall order, even for a much smaller organization. I've been impressed with our committee chairperson who has insisted on a broad sampling of input from across the campus community, from facility services to undergrad students to Vice Presidents. I've decided its the type of spiritual community I prefer to grow in.

As you may remember, we've been taking a look at a monk from the 5th century named Benedict. He says in his rule, "Whenever weighty matters are to be transacted in the monastery, let the Abbot call together the whole community..." As a spiritual leader, Benny took seriously the call to listen to his followers. (see Rule 1) In fact, he goes on to say, "we said that all should be called for counsel, because the Lord often revealeth to the younger what is best." This equalitarian strain of hearing from all went directly against the iron-willed rule of many monastic communities of the day. In fact, the tenor of the work that most directly influenced Benedict's rule, "The Rule of the Master" could be summarized in the vernacular as "shut up and color!"

What kind of spiritual community are you attracted to? Do you like a rigid, rules-oriented group where your boundaries are clear and your thinking is done for you? Do you prefer strong, directive leaders who have definitive answers to all of life's pressing questions? God bless you, I wish you well. That's just not for me. I like Benedict's eggs better, thank you very much.

I prefer spiritual community which strives to listen to even the least among them as they pursue God's will.

We all live in a cultural context, and in Benny's day, the church had grown rich and powerful, and many thought it had lost its spiritual focus. So Benedict gathered groups of 12 fellow Christ-followers and lived according to his rule, seeking God together as a community. In fact he started 12 such communities, on the model of Jesus who gathered 12 men around him to do life together.

Many consider our times to be similar to Benedict's. Where once our culture was secular and the church spiritual, now the church is secular and culture spiritual. (not necessarily Christian!) Yet as tempting as it is to hole up in a spiritual community with strong leaders who will build the walls high and "keep out the evil" with strong prohibitions, it seems that Benedict has a better rule.

Rule #2 "Listen to one another, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ."

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Robert Webber on Advent

Here is a devotional published by Robert Webber on Advent. It captures the journey through such an amazing time of year so much better than the "25 shopping days til Xmas."

Definitely worth the read.

Happy Advent!

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Benedict--serving up Rule #1

I have been thinking lately about St. Benedict - and what this ancient monk might have to say to me in my (post) modern life. To save you the "google" Benny was born in Nursia, Italy c. 480 - died c. 547. He was the Abbot of Monte Cassino, and a founder of Christian monastic communities and a rule giver for monks living in community. Right away, if I were you, my eyes would be rolling at the thought of one more religious guy and his "rules." Right? Wrong.

The reason I'm thinking about Benny and his rule is that recently my friend Dr. Mike Moses talked about the value of having a rule (Regula, for you Latin geeks out there) as a guide to one's spiritual growth. He explained a "rule" as a guide or a plan for your spiritual growth. He chose as a metaphor that of an arbor, which gives guidance and support to a young vine as it grows to maturity. A Regula Spiriti, or rule of the spirit, would be one that could guide me in my growth and support my spiritual life in the coming year. And Benedict supplied just such a rule for the monks in his community.

My problem is that I don't so much like rules. Any of them, I'm not choosy. I don't read instruction manuals, and I don't like people telling me I'm doing it "wrong." I'm hard headed that way, and in my children I find a mirror of what happens when one refuses to "listen." Funny, but that's exactly how the Rule of St. Benedict begins, "Listen, my children..." Just like a young vine needs guidance in its growth from the arbor, so a child needs guidance from his parents; and (reluctantly acknowledged) I need guidance from my spiritual fathers and mothers.

Fine... I'll listen. Are you willing to listen to Benedict? I discovered he's not a preacher, not a priest, but a "layman." An ordinary working stiff who was trying to help his friends find some sort of center of soul in the busyness of working. And he wasn't talking to just religious people, as he says, "To you, therefore, my words are now addressed, whoever you may be, who are renouncing your own will..." Hmmm...there's a secret there, from Benny, that the rule is first to listen, then to admit you may be going about things all the wrong way. Thousands of men and later women listend to Rule #1 from Benedict of Nursia. That's why he came to be known as "the founder of western Christian monasticism".

So... Rule #1 from Benedict today is simple.

Stop and Listen...you may be wrong.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Captain Dale Parker in Chapel

So today we have the distinct privilege to welcome Captain Dale Parker, the Senior Navy Chaplain in the Mid-Atlantic region to University Chapel. If you're a Regent student, or a veteran in the CBN community, you are invited to be part of special worship service to honor our Lord Jesus and recognize our veterans.

In that vein, let me throw you a theological conundrum. As Americans, we are grateful for our freedoms (including the freedom to worship!) and give God thanks for the men and women who purchased and protected that freedom, often with their lives. We see in Scripture great warriors who also served God, including Moses, Joshua, David, and in the New Testament Cornelius and the centurion. Godly men and women can serve their nation and their Lord with honor.

Yet we are also instructed by our Savior " Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 5:44) To be honest, it comes easier for me on a day like today to pray for our troops, our friends, our "side." Yet Jesus, from His cosmic perspective, looks down on all men, sending rain on the just and the unjust, and asks us to pray for those we consider enemies.

So today I pray for our troops, and for the militant Islamic terrorists who war against our very way of life. I pray their hearts are softened, their minds are changed, and their lives reflect the love they attribute to Allah. I pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that Arab and Jew, Palestinian and Israeli would find common ground. I pray for South Koreans AND North Koreans. I pray for the corrupt Afghani government officials, AND the ... are there any other kind? Just curious.

Let me know what you think. How can we pray for both sides?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Unspoken Request?

This is a blog entry I have been reluctant to make. The whole facebooking, blogging, and Twittering process involves sharing information about yourself with others. Everything from the mundane "had Fruity Hoops this AM, Yum!" to the amusing "son shoved rox (sic) in the furnace vent--only cost us $1000" (true story) to the annoying, "Jimmy bought a new cow bell and overalls in Farm-Land." I'm comfortable in the land of self-disclosure, and often (as you probably know) fill the digital landscape with verbiage both pedestrian and profound.

But recently, I ran into a roadblock. Something going on in my life so big, so perplexing, that I fell back on that old chestnut of youth group prayer meetings. "I have an unspoken request." For those of you unfamiliar with the expression, it could be hauled out if one was so verklempt as to be rendered speechless by life's troubles, or simply when you didn't feel like praying for Uncle Bob's travel mercies any longer. It was like saying, "I take a pass." Which was exactly what I felt like saying, when I found out that my dad had a tumor in his spine.

To be fair, my Facebook friends responded with grace and charity. "I'll pray!" said one. "From your heart to God's ears," chirped another. But it didn't feel like that to me. When an MRI revealed that my pops had a tumor in his cervical spine, I experienced it almost as a digital event, a strange post about a made-up world of fantasy; this couldn't be happening to me and to my family. Writing the status update , "my dad has a spinal column tumor" was something neither my fingers nor my brain were ready nor able to do.

Not that I am a stranger to tragedy. As a pastor, I have walked through devastating days with parishioners, and our family like yours has endured our share of pain. Yet in this pleasant season where we share a neighborhood with my folks, seeing them nearly every day, such unwanted news shocked me. Writing down that diagnosis seemed too stark, contemplating the possibilities too grim for me to attempt. So I retreated to the unspoken...

But now I speak. First, because I need help. I need friends and acquaintances to pray and encourage me because I simply can't handle life alone. I wish I could. Second, in speaking the unspoken I name our enemy, focus our prayers, target our petitions. Because as dire as that news is, I do believe in power greater than all our troubles. Speaking my need focuses my attention on God's power to save and heal, even in the worst situations.

I'll be frank; my mind often floods with the torrent of possible complications from a surgery that could scar, paralyze or kill. I choose nevertheless to give a "confession of hope" because "He who promises is faithful." That is to say, I dare speak these bare words of need because I do believe that Jesus the healer can and will deal with that need as only one who has died and rose again can... through the doctors, yes, and even beyond a doctor's skill.

So tomorrow morning you may see my status "At the hospital for my dad's surgery." I hope you'll join me in saying a prayer, because this is bigger than me. And the next time you have an "unspoken request" know that I'll understand. But more importantly, the Bible says, "Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD." The unspoken is already spoken to Him. And that's what gives me hope...

Friday, October 2, 2009

“More Cowbell. I’ve got the fever…”

The joke rings out of a Saturday Night Live skit from April of 2000, bringing a smile to those who cannot now escape the sight of Will Farrell in a crazy wig, clanking a cowbell in the ear of an apparently oblivious guitarist. People who’ve never seen the skit or wouldn’t catch a SNL reference if it were lobbed at them underhand respond with incredulity when a group of “insiders” bandy about the saying, “More cowbell. I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is MORE COWBELL.” “What in the world are they talking about?” they might mutter to themselves.

Perhaps some around Regent have found themselves muttering about a different phrase, an insider’s slogan; that may seem equally foreign, equally obtuse. “Becoming Community.” What does it mean? Who is it for? Is this a socialist plot?” some may have asked.

As one who was there when the term was coined, I feel obligated and perhaps compelled to explain this insider’s phrase, and to make sense of its meaning and intent. Because I too have a fever. And it’s for More Community.

The phrase “Becoming Community” originated in a Student Services brainstorming meeting, whose intent was to set a theme for the year that would capture our sense of what God was up to on our campus, and would name our hopes for the academic year 2009-2010. Becoming Community was unanimously selected as our theme, and has since filtered out, like any good inside joke, to others, both in the faculty, staff and student body.

To be fair, not everyone gets it. “What community?” Who gets to decide? It sounds too soft and gooey to get my arms around.” Individuals point out that community requires trust, a scarce substance in many places. It requires socializing and eating together, something made difficult in Regent’s online environment. In our culture of advertising hype, it sounds like yet another empty cliché, designed to pad recruiting or retention statistics. But still, I have a fever.

I’m not sure whom to blame for my malady. I desperately, with all my being, want to be part of a living, thriving, healthy community. I want to work in a place where I know the people around me, and in turn am known. I want to invest myself in others and celebrate their accomplishments, and in turn be celebrated. My heart hopes for a place where I trust those above and below me to work side by side for a mission greater than all of us. But I need more cowbell…or I should say, I need more community at Regent.

I’d like to see more students meeting together in the Commons, studying the Bible and sharing what a verse means to them, rather than staying up till midnight—door closed to others- to turn in an online post for a class. I want to see more faculty and staff in the Ordinary, pouring themselves into mentoring relationships that cross generational and denominational boundaries. I long to see a weekly chapel packed with students, staff and faculty laying aside cherished worship preferences in order to express their common faith in Jesus Christ, united with students around the country and the world though online access.

The Apostle Paul had it when he spoke to a deeply divided body of believers, 10I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought. I hear the passion in his voice as the great pastor and educator pleaded with individuals and groups to get along, to work together, to be united in mind and thought. Would he ask for less from a Christian institution founded for God’s glory, whose very seal includes a ribbon symbolizing the unity we proclaim to a watching world. Shouldn’t we all have this fever?

And Guess What? I think I hear the distinctive ring of community’s beat. This year Residence Life professionals along with Student Services staff were joined by area churches on a true Freshman Move-in day. Music played, brightly colored signs welcomed new students. Blaze orange “Volunteer” shirts on Vice Presidents and “2 L’s” melted diversity of rank into unity of purpose. I was there in the room when Katie first met Lauren, their mothers smiled and cooed as they envisioned their girls in each others’ weddings years hence.

I watched as students organized a new evening chapel and were joined by dozens of their peers from every graduate school as well as the large contingent from undergrad. I’ve seen Students involved in Free Enterprise (SIFE) unite Operation Blessing, CBN and Regent through their service initiative to Can Hunger. (honored by Campbell’s Soup with a “seed money” grant.) I was witnessing the fever spreading…not an epidemic, to be sure, but the story getting out, the flame spreading. More “outsiders” getting in on the joke.

To this ear, it’s the familiar ring of a favorite song. One that brought seven professors and seventy students together to pray and to worship and to seek God’s face united in a community for His glory. And when an undergraduate student shared with me that upon his mother’s death, students, staff and faculty rallied around him, his flight home was paid out of the Regent Student Emergency fund, and he received a personal call from the President and Chancellor Dr. Pat Robertson, I knew what we needed more of…more Community. More cowbell. So I’m wondering, do you have the fever?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

May the Farce be with you...

Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi denounced the UN as ineffective. He threw the UN charter over his shoulder in disgust, something that would warm the heart of even the grimmest conservative. Further, he propounded exotic conspiracy stories, and called for a fresh investigation of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. He complained about New York. He even stayed at Donald Trump's place... Just when one thought that he had identified himself as the ultimate right wing conservative, he did an about face.

Gaddafi tried out liberalism's tenets... he embraced racial progress in America ""Now the black man doesn't have to sit in the back of the bus," He praised the new Obama administration. The self-proclaimed "King of Kings" (modest, we are not) labeled Barack Obama as "my son." He eschewed military power (not his own of course). Is he a liberal?

But Mo-bi One showed he was unlike any other. He wore a copper and black ensemble (prompting a future appearance on "What not to wear--Dictator week?") in which no Ivy Leaguer would be caught dead. He drew protests from victims of Pan Am flight 103, who named him "Murder of the Year." He complained in one breath about the veto of the Security Council, and in the next about jet lag. He offered to house the UN in the Libyan desert, to spare the US the expense. He pretty much just RAMBLED for over 100 minutes...in a speech designed to last barely thirty. Mo was out in FARCE sporting a haircut that Laurel and Hardy would be proud of...

Mo-bi one...may the FARCE be with you.

Watch this video if you need a good laugh!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Admiral Clark is Landing!

Each time I hear from our distinguished professor from the Robertson School of Government, Admiral Vern Clark, (Ret.) I gain a fresh appreciation of his singular gifts. The depth of insight, the breadth of experience, the stark challenge of leadership brings me to the edge of my seat every time! Join us online or in person to hear Admiral Clark elucidate the leadership challenges of becoming community at a religiously diverse institution, such as Regent University.

For an added bonus, hear the exciting mission of Students Involved in Free Enterprise (SIFE) and their "Can Hunger" drive. If you are attending in person, be our guest for a free lunch following chapel, provided by our friends from SIFE.

Be blessed today!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Getting my Fill of Dentists...

I'm guessing that I'm not alone in getting a little nervous about dentist visits! Don't get me wrong, I have the best dentist in the world (I only go to see him once every two years, after all!) How bad can he be? [Jerry or Cindy, if you're reading this, don't take it personally]

So what is it about the dentist that touches a nerve in me? (other than he is one of the few people in my life who could literally touch a nerve in me) After all, Jesus himself included dental pain as one description of hell, "Where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth..." (Mt. 13:42) For me it's a couple of things. First, when I was growing up I had terribly crooked teeth. Apparently the Kidd gene included coding for being slow, preferring bananna pudding, and having the same bite pattern as a saber-tooth tiger. So I had four "canine incisors" pulled when I was an impressionable 12-year old. I can still feel that needle and the novacaine going into my gums, all the while the dentist telling me it wouldn't hurt a bit. I wanted to jab him in the knee with a sharp implement.

Second, I really didn't feel like I needed the dentist thing. After all the mess of braces (and yes, I lost my retainer in Jr. High and had to dig through the trash...it was a rite of passage!) I made it through my childhood and entire adult life without a cavity. Of course, being the proud human being that I am, I took my strong enamel as a commentary on my moral superiority. Who needs a dentist? All they do is get me down in the mouth.

During my last visit to the dentist, they warned me that one spot on a tooth looked weak, and put it on a "Watch list." (Sort of like North Korea?) But that didn't slow me down. Sure of my superior dention, I ignored the warning for two full years. But two weeks ago my fantasy of dental perfection was shattered. "Dr. J" let me know that decay had penetrated the outer wall of enamel in one tooth, and he was going to have to repair it. That's where I'm headed today... to have a hole in my head filled. I'm dreading it...

So it made me wonder, what other warnings are we ignoring? What other weak spots in my life have I received notice on, but haven't done anything other than schedule a visit to de-nial? Going to the dentist, of course, is a good thing. It is part of being a well person, to respond to the inevitable problems that plaque and Double stuff Oreo's bring my way. Today, I'm going to get my fill of dentists. What weak areas need filling in your life?

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Never Forget!

Picture I snapped at Ground Zero

I suppose I may be a day late and a dollar short, but then reflection and thought takes time. I have been thinking about 9-11 after the remembrances and celebrations of the last few days. In a strange twist of fate, a Virginia Beach native like me ended up right in the middle of the recovery efforts in New York City. Through the efforts of my church to assist Operation Blessing International in their relief, I traveled to NYC and in response, started an organization to mobilize resources in this area to assist. It was called the First Fruits Crisis Response Team.

What we found in NYC amazed me. People from all over the country just showed up, without plan and without thought to their own needs, in order to help a city in pain. I formed life-long bonds with folks in Operation Blessing, especially Jim Esposito. My friend Jim was here in Virginia Beach this weekend, and seeing him reminded me of the amazing camaraderie that existed among the relief workers those first few days after the towers came down.

The Operation Blessing Gang (Jim in blue shirt)

In that spirit, a friend posted the following comment on my Facebook page on 9-11...

Kimberley Jenkins
You are right. We will never forget the day. However, I wonder how we are to remember the community that was shared at that time, to me it seems to have been forgotten. My point: are we only to be in community doing tragedies or is it to be our way of life.

It is of course a great question. In those first moments, we were all New Yorkers. In those first moments, the area around Ground Zero became a sanctuary to the fallen, and complete strangers grew silent to approach the hallowed ground. The world community gathered behind the United States, in testimony to the audacious, undeserved attack. What happened to that sense of solidarity?

First, danger always focuses us on the crucial, critical issues of life. It is abundance and comfort that enables our indulgence in individualism. In crisis we realize anew that we desperately need each other, and discover that which unites us is greater than that which divides us. I remember one man, Antonio Nino Vendome, opened up his restaurant as a relief center for any uniformed personnel. It stayed open 24 hours a day. Seeing the dizzying spectrum of law enforcement patches from all over the country burned into my mind then that boundaries could be crossed for the greater good of the community. (Law enforcement groups are notoriously territorial) I pray we could experience that again.

What do you think? Are crises the only things big enough to remind us of our common needs as humans, our common cause as Americans? I pray not...

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Meeting Joel Rosenberg Tomorrow

Tomorrow I'm meeting Joel Rosen

According to his weblog,
Joel C. Rosenberg is the founder of The Joshua Fund (www.joshuafund.net) and the New York Times best-selling author of The Last Jihad (2002), The Last Days(2003), The Ezekiel Option (2005), The Copper Scroll (2006), Epicenter (200
6) and Dead Heat (this year) with more than 1.5 million copies in print. The Ezekiel Option was named by the ECPA as the Gold Medallion winner of the “Best Novel of 2006.” Joel — whose mother is Gentile and whose father is from a Jewish background –previously worked with several U.S. and Israeli leaders, including Steve Forbes, former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky, and former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

I got hooked on Joel through his best-selling fiction, starting with The Last Jihad. By way of confession, I don't read Christian fiction (I like good fiction and think that Christians should just
write good fiction, instead of pandering to a niche market...but I guess nobody asked). I exclude on principle folks like Ted Dekker and C.S. Lewis, who in my opinion, write good fiction that happens to include Christian themes. But I digress.

Joel will be on the 700 Club tomorrow, then over to the Regent side of the house to spend time with students, share with the Law/Government schools during chapel, then off to the airport. (I think he has an interview on the West Coast in the evening!) I particularly love his crisp, snappy style of narrating enormously plausible global intrigue. It makes me feel like all those years in
history and political science classes weren't wasted!

So as I get to meet one of my heroes, I'm wondering if you have any questions for him? He's an expert on Middle East Politics. His latest work Inside The Revolution documentary film on DVD is now in documentary form. He is an amazing writer, and active on his blog.

Any questions you may have...shoot 'em my way, and I'll ask them!
Peace y'all.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Birthrights of Community

Every time I hear this guy (Dr. Carlos Campo) speak, I think "Man, he's awesome!" He's intense, he's scholarly, he's funny, he's erudite! Why wouldn't you want to come hear him? Ok, so if you're an online student, you can log into the Campus Ministries My Regent portal and hear him online. Any other excuses?

Good! We'll see you tomorrow for University Chapel at noon in the Moot Courtroom . Be there, or be elsewhere.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Are you a Body Builder?

We're back to school and back to worshipping God together! Join fellow staff, students and faculty for University Chapel, Wed. Aug. 26, at noon in the Moot Courtroom. We'll kick off our year-long series on "Becoming Community." Are you a Bodybuilder? We're all building a body of some sort, one decision, one donut at a time. What kind of body are you building?

We'll see you there! (Streamed online for those who can't make it in person... go to Regent's My Web Portal, click on the Campus Ministries tab).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Last Summer Chapel!

I met Roger over 10 years ago playing golf with a mutual friend. He struck me as a nice guy (my first impression was correct!) and a pretty good golfer! What I have discovered since then, however, is that he is an amazing friend, pastor, encourager, and an even better basketball player than golfer! I am so excited that my brother and friend will be sharing in University Chapel tomorrow, Aug. 19 at noon in the Library Auditorium.

Rev. Cheeks (or Bishop T.D. Cheeks, as I like to call him) will be sharing on the theme "Transformers--more than meets the Eye." Not only can my son sing a song with those same words, I am vitally interested in the topic of transformation. Real change is really rare. But from what I've seen in my friend Roger's life, he is a life-tested authority in this issue. He's lived, loved and changed with the Lord's help, and I am looking forward to hearing from him on this subject.

How about you--are you being transformed?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Don't Miss this Lady!

Hear why we should "go the extra mile" in serving others from someone who knows what it takes!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

What is Poetry?

Recently, Sarah Palin resigned from the governor's seat in Alaska. She delivered a speech that garnered mixed responses. But her exact text was delivered in a different setting, to an entirely different end.

Watch that link here... Palin's text
So the question is... what is poetry? Is it the words, or is it the delivery, or is it both?
I think about the beautiful poetry of the truth, and how often I marr it almost beyond recognition in my own telling. Is it poetry just because it's true? Or do I have a responsibility to handle the words well, to draw attention to the truth in deft, artistic moves?
What do you think?

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Hey this is my Man!

Marc Santom IS the man. He's speaking in University Chapel tomorrow and I for one will be there. Of course I 'm paid to do that, so I suppose that is not a very remarkable thought. Nevertheless, even if I wasn't paid to do that, I would do that. He is a great, engaging speaker, and he has life experience that adds depth to his presentation.

So check it out tomorrow! Noon in the Library Auditorium.

Rock on Marcus!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Oops. One Giant Misstep for Mankind

"We searched for the tapes everywhere," NASA engineer Richard Nafzger said in an interview with the Associated Press. Don't you feel for the poor schlemiel who erased, not the first steps of little Johnny across the living room, but the historic first steps of Neil Armstrong on the moon?

But of course we've all done that, at some point. In the old days, all it took was opening the back of the camera at an inopportune time. (those of you with an all-digital memory, please find some older person and ask them to reminisce about the small square do-hickey with four little bulbs called a 'flash.') All it takes now is one mishandled download, and four hundred precious pics from Hannah's Chuckee Cheese party are gone in a flash. What's a guy to do?

Turn to the magic of Hollywood, of course. For a mere $230,000 the same geniuses that restored Star Wars intergalactic luster have restored the footage of the moonwalk. Where were they when I needed them?

But it made me think...why is it I always forget the important stuff, but fill my memory with inconsequential clutter? How exactly would Richard Nafzger feel if the world discovered he had taped over the moon landing to make room for some quality Hee Haw episodes?

But in effect, that's what I do. I cram my digital databank with memories of slights from days gone by, people who have wounded me, intentionally or not. I recall missed opportunities with continued pain, beat myself up with failures and mistakes. In short, I remember all the snapshots of pain and shame with crystal clear precision.

But what about the really important stuff? Times I served others? Times God stepped in with complete grace and saved the day? Family and friends and the thousand precious moments that should last forever in my memory, but don't. Those are the things I should remember. How about you, what should you be remembering? How about a few things you need to forget?

A "Precious Moment" from Easter 2004

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Church Without Shame?

Paula White Returns to Church Without Walls

Help me understand why this isn't a crassly economic move to stave off bankruptcy at the church and foreclosure on the property? I mean, that in itself is not a bad goal, but to dress it up like this is to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
Am I missing something here? I know she's popular. I know she's a better speaker than him. (Sorry Randy) But someone doesn't think that this is just a bit awkward? I have seen divorced couples try to stay in the same church; usually they pick different services or steer clear of each other. But where does he go--she's preaching all the services? Will she lead the divorce recovery group, or teach it?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reformed Resurgence

My friend Sean shot me this through Facebook, and I really liked it. Check it out and see if it connects to your experience.


One of my problems is that I have a hard time putting myself into a category. Most categories seem a bit of a procrustean bed, lopping off the extremes of most of my positions. Maybe one day I'll grow up and fit in one camp or another, but for now I have to sample a bit here, and a bit there. Kind of like Golden Corral for theology, but less grease.


Friday, July 10, 2009

Love is the Ultimate Luxury

My last stay in New York City laid me in the lap of luxury. The “W” Hotel on Times Square exuded sleek, modern elegance. Their signature service is to orchestrate every design detail to convey comfort, style, and class. But there is another New York. My most recent visit has reminded me that the city has another face, not so coiffed, not so elegant.

My hosts this trip were the amazing folks at the New York School of Urban Ministry or NYSUM for short. For twenty-five years the Rev. Peter DeArruda, his wife Darleene, and their magnificent staff have been serving the “other” New York, the gritty world of the streets. Their signature service is a late night “room service” visit to New York’s homeless. The delivery? A care package of personal hygiene goods, and a late night snack. Then, with the help of volunteer groups from around the country, they serenade their “guests” with live music and love.

While for this stay I did not have 200-thread count Egyptian cotton sheets, I met a staff who has given out thousands of free blankets to the homeless. I could not order fresh squeezed wheat grass shots for breakfast, but I could receive a generous helping of love and a bagged lunch to take me out into the community to help AIDS patients, or sing for cerebral palsy sufferers.
So I didn’t have fresh flowers at check-in, but I did have a wakeup call. According to the NY Coalition for the Homeless, there are 9,538 homeless currently in shelters in the city. That’s an increase of more than 5,000 people since 2002. In Hampton Roads terms, that’s a whole aircraft carrier full of people who don’t have a home beyond the streets.
This Spring Break (2010) students from Regent University will come with me to visit this other New York. And when they check in at the bare bunks and sparse halls of NYSUM, I know that they will have a chance to serve those in need. They will discover, as I have, that love may be the ultimate luxury.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Summer Chapel, July 8

What, Me Worry?

The ushers were in place. The crowd had been lining up for over an hour. The “green room” backstage of the Performing Arts Center at Regent was set with a small banquet of goodies for the band. All the details for Jars of Clay were prepared…leaving me only one task to complete; worry.

Oh, I know. I’m not supposed to worry. I worry about that too. If I’m worrying, then at least I feel like I’m doing my part! I worried that Jars of Clay would talk more than they would play (unfounded, as it turned out.) I worried that I would blow my lines as I asked the band questions from students. Most of all, I worried that the guys in the band would walk in, see forty people assembled for chapel, and decide that I was a loser, and that coming to Regent was a mistake.

Do you ever create doomsday scenarios in your head? I do. My stomach can get wrapped in knots that even sailors and Boy Scouts wouldn’t recognize. There I was on the edge of my seat, waiting for the triple-Grammy award winning band to come on stage—suddenly awarding them the status of judge of my own worth and value. But as I watched these “stars” take the stage, to the applause of 800+ folks, I had a rare moment of insight. “Jars of Clay” was a message for me. Not the band, but the name.

“We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us,” said the man once known as Saul of Tarsus. If ever there was a Type-A, high-powered individual who sweated every detail, it was he. But in a blinding moment of insight, he saw all of his own gifts and talents, his accomplishments as nothing, in light of God and His power. These four normal guys, Dan, Steve, Charlie and Matt, chose this name “Jars of Clay” to remind themselves to focus on the pure liquid of God’s message. These guys proved to be so normal, so unassuming, so unworried that it spoke to me.

My worth isn’t based on my performance. If there were a few cracks in my jar, then the focus could be all the more on the pure liquid treasure of God’s wonderful message. I leaned back, smiled and enjoyed the chapel, thankful that it was God’s surpassing power at work and not my own meager gifts. But now I have to plan my next chapel….

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Who is Grace?

Rachel is my only  daughter.  I love her passionately; beyond reason. But there are times when she is monstrously disobedient. One time, our family visited Disney World.  I told Rachel to keep her little stuffed rabbit in the stroller.  "Honey, you love your little rabbit, you would hate for her to get lost.  So leave her in the stroller."

But do you think a 4 year old is going to listen to her daddy on a subject like that?  No.  So after touring all of Tomorrowland, and Frontierland together as a family, Rachel discovers that her rabbit has come up missing. Shrieks and wails ensued; travesty and calumny issued forth from my daughter. I patiently explain the laws of cause and effect. I demonstrate that this is the natural and logical consequence of disobedience.  More shrieks, wailing, gnashing of teeth and bitter tears. I look at the mother; her eyes are telling me logic is not working. 

So I, the father, go on an illogical, irrational, all-out search for the lost bunny. I searched on the Goofy Roller coaster.  I search by the juice stand, and in the gazebo where we took a picture with Pluto. I turned Disney World upside down to find Rachel’s rabbit. Until I FINALLY I found that rascal rabbit, tucked behind the sewing machine in Minnie's House, and I apprehended her and brought her back to where she belonged. 

I gave the rabbit back to Rachel, this rabbit who had been lost but now was found, who had been dead, but now was alive.  And I said, “Rachel, do you know why Daddy did what he did?  It was because of the name of your rabbit.  What’s your rabbit’s name Rachel?  

Through the tears she said it, “Daddy her name is Grace.”  That’s right Rachel.  Her name is Grace. Daddy told you not to leave her, daddy told you the right thing to do but you disobeyed.  But Rachel, grace is getting what you don’t deserve. Grace is unmerited favor.  Rachel, never forget, your daddy loves you, and when you least deserve it, you will receive grace.”

So who is Grace? Grace is more than a rabbit, grace is a father. Grace is a Father who because of His illogical, boundless love for all His children patiently gives instructions for our safety. And when we ignore them, and we all do, He embarks on an illogical, irrational search for us in the midst of our poor choices. I am so glad Grace is a person, because I spend more time lost than I have any right to...but each time, I get not what I deserve, but instead I get the gift. The gift of grace. Man I love that rascally rabbit.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

God Reads All Tweets

I read an article yesterday from Relevant magazine that slammed Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace and other social networking sites because they are inherently narcissistic. That is, they invite people to blather on about meaningless details in their lives only a mother could consider important. And I have to admit as I read the ubiquitous "25 Things About me and my toenails" or "How well do you really know John Doe? on Facebook, I question the ultimate micro-niche audience that must exist for these stories.
But then I wondered, what makes us want to tell all these details to random strangers, or at least to a gaggle of folk who haven't been close to us since elementary school? Is it really narcissism, or is it something different? I think (to make a gross generalization) people want intimacy. They want to be known. They have a legitimate desire for others to know them through the mundane details of their lives. We all have a hunch that we should matter, and that isn't narcissism.

To be fair, our celebrity culture, with it's paparazzi-driven obsession over the details of famous people's lives invites self-worship. We all want to be famous, even if it is for fifteen minutes (or 140 characters) of fame. But social networking sites turn that trend on it's ear, making celebrities their own journalists. Twitter puts the power back into the hands of celebrities themselves, giving them the power to release what details they desire. It's authentic self-disclosure, rather than a breathless "scoop."

So how did we develop this hunch of importance? If we are but an accident of randomly arranged atoms, self-importance is the ultimate hoax. But if we're more than that, if someone or something made us, and cares about us, then it makes complete sense. One metaphor in Scripture for God is that of Father. I'm a dad, so I know a bit about that experience. Good dad's watch over their kids. We are familiar with the constant refrain, "Look dad!" No detail of my childrens' day is too miniscule for my attention. They're my kids, so I care.

God has that kind of watch care over us. He is a Father who cares about every detail of our lives, no matter how mundane.

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

(Matthew 10:29-31)

I find it interesting that the logo page for Twitter includes a small sparrow, presumably Tweeting away in his tree. The truth of the Scripture is that God listens to all her tweets, and cares for each sparrow's fall. That's encouraging to me, because it means my hunch of importance is confirmed in a Father who listens and is always interested and who always cares.

What I'm trying to say is, God reads all Tweets. Thank goodness, because I don't.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

“It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.”

Do a Google search on Jack Bauer, and most of the images returned feature Jack holding a gun. Or Jack surrounded by an exploding fireball. Or perhaps most emblematic, a "Jack Bauer" action figure kicking down a door. Like Captain Kirk from a generation before, Jack is our vicarious stand-in for life's great dilemnas... should I/we follow the rules or save the busload of children (save the kids). Should we torture a man to extract a truth that may save the lives of countless thousands? (yes, with relish) Should one choose close family relations or national security? (national security over family security almost every time) Action Jack has busted through the doors of dozens of dilemnas over seven seasons, but now he faces his greatest dilemna yet... He's dying.

Jack's seizures, random twitches and grimaces have surfaced more often than uber-nerd Chloe's signature pout and squint. We're reminded how weak and powerless Jack is, even as he shoots his former friend and current traitor Tony before he can exact personal revenge. Our can-do post-modern MacGyver is reduced to reliance on his daughter to save his life. And then, just before he is placed in a morphine-induced coma, (say it ain't so Jack!) he calls for a single, solitary figure. An Imam--a Muslim holy man.

Not to ruin the plot for those of you (non-Hulu) folks who haven't watched the last few episodes, but some shadowy arch-conservative pseudo-patriots (let the reader understand they mean Blackwater aka Xe) have manipulated good, peace-loving Muslims into being the facade for a biological attack on Washington D.C. At first, Action Jack falls for this ruse, almost pulling out all his Guantanamo-esque skills of interrogation on the hapless Imam. But in a blinding flash of insight, our hero realizes that both the Muslims in question AND the Imam were innocent men, and that once again, he had been on the brink of doing something heinous. (torturing an innocent man--you'd think he'd have gotten used to it by now). Foreshadowing Jack's call for the Imam on his "deathbed" the Muslim holy man tells the man with the tortured conscience "“It’s never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.”

Now let me get down to my thoughts. I certainly don't want to get into the debate about whether all Muslims are heaven-bent to take us poor infidels into the great beyond. Surely such over-generalizations belong to those who need life cut into convenient, cookie-cutter categories. Nor am I going to shout and scream that Christians are getting a poor shake because Jack called out for a mullah instead of a reverend. Frankly, a man with as much violence in his past as Action Jack is doing well to talk to anyone of a spiritual ilk. Nor am I offended at the writers' evident attempt to patch up hard feelings in the Muslim community for casting them as evil nasties in previous seasons. None of that bothers me; after all this is entertainment.

What concerns me, however, is that the TV Imam gives rather un-Muslim advice. And for that matter, the advice doesn't fit into Christianity's script either. The holy-man character repeats his previous statement to Jack, "I hope that you can forgive yourself.” Hello--when did Oprah become a guest on my kick-down the door, blow up the helicopter, shoot your former friend in the shoulder action show? But that's where this psycho babble advice comes from. No Muslim or Christian or Jew in their right theology would tell someone that the key issue to settle before you die is to forgive yourself.
I'm not saying that forgiving yourself isn't important. I've made some God-awful, searing mistakes that still wake me up some nights in chilling, sweating regret. Is it hard work to not beat myself up for all those past mistakes? (Even though I wouldn't count torture, murder or growing an ugly beard and hiding in Africa in my mea culpas) You bet. But before I die and face my maker, I think that it would be slightly more important to consider the ways that I have failed Him, sinned against Him and His design in my life and seek His forgiveness. A great king who blew it said it this way, "Against Thee and Thee only have I sinned..."
It's not my place to tell you that you must choose the Christian answer above the Muslim answer or the Buddhist answer, or the St. Oprah answer, for that matter. That's up to you. I'm merely clarifying according to the Bible, when life comes down to mono y Deo, just you and the Divine, the issue is worship failure. A life that fell short of it's divine intent. I reflect on God's purpose for my life, one He characterizes as "glorious" and realize with grim certainty that I have often fallen far short of it... Sure I need to forgive myself. But more importantly, I need to ask God's forgiveness. I was made for Him, and I lived for myself instead. The ultimate answer isn't more SELF, it's more G-d. After all, it's never too late to turn to God, Mr. Bauer.

Friday, May 1, 2009

This was not my mother, but it made me think

I received an email from a friend today that touched me deeply. As Mother's Day approaches, it made me reflect on my own close relationship with my mother. More than that, it helped clarify what is important in life. Please read this, but don't email me to say your sorry my mother died! It wasn't my mom, but it did touch my heart. Read this from my friend Dave....

This morning my mom died.
She was diagnosed with cancer 7 ½ years ago, and was given about two years to live, five on the outside. She wept when she heard because of the sadness about not being able to watch her beloved grandchildren grow up.But from the day she first heard the news she wasn’t afraid of death. She was always very grateful for her life, and maybe more importantly, she felt like God had given her a mission that she had completed faithfully. So was time for her to pass the baton for the next generation, and go home to be with God.

All that suddenly changed when my sister-in-law was also diagnosed with terminal cancer. My mom’s own mother had died of cancer when she was young, which had always been the primary heartbreak of my mother’s life. She received that has a call to “come out of retirement” so that she could shepherd my brother and sister-in-law’s three very young children through that tragic experience.That may not seem like a particularly heroic decision, but it’s one of the most heroic and sacrificial things I’ve ever seen anyone do. Determining to stay alive as long as she could and order to care for her grandchildren meant subjecting herself to years of countless indignities and cruel medical treatments.

Daily soldiers and missionaries give up their lives to serve others, which is an awesome sacrifice. My mother made an even more awesome sacrifice, in my estimation: she made the sacrifice of choosing to remain alive, and endure excruciating pain for five more years in order to serve her grandchildren who needed her. And she bore it without complaint.
I realize that for many of you, it will come as a shock to my mother was sick, because she insisted that we never share with anyone – not even her own sister or my grandmother living next door knew. I admit that at first I didn’t agree with her desire for secrecy, but over time I came to understand. She knew that if others knew that she was so sick, that they would concentrate constantly when serving her – but she had stayed alive in order to serve others, she didn’t want to be the focus of attention. She poured enthusiasm and energy into people who had no idea that she would return home to sleep for hours in the middle of the day because it was so exhausting for her.

Since they finally learned last week about how sick my mother was, many people have commented about how difficult it must have been for my father, brothers and I to live for so long with that knowledge. And in some sense it’s true, but in another sense, nothing could be further from the truth – this time has been a tremendous gift.
As I counsel people whose loved ones have died, I frequently hear about their regret at having missed the opportunity to say so many things they wish they had been able to say. So many of the most precious things we would ever want to communicate to someone we love can seem out of place or excessively serious in the rush of daily life. So while we chatter about the minutia, we leave so many of the most important, intimate things left unsaid – assumed.
But after someone has received a diagnosis of terminal cancer, any awkwardness around saying something too serious or too personal disappears immediately – suddenly it seems like the most natural thing in the world to say exactly how you feel, express your appreciation freely. What an incomparable gift has been to live like this with my mother for the past seven years. I’m sure I’ll have many days of sadness ahead, but I don’t think I’ll have too many regrets.
David asked God in Psalm 35 “"Show me, LORD, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is”, and in the same vein, Psalm 90 records Moses’ prayer that God would “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Living with death in mind changes the way we live, and in my relationship with my mother and had the privilege of doing that.
Many people have also commented on how proud my mother must have been to have raised three sons who all attended elite universities and graduate schools, and are successful in their respective fields. She was more proud that we all are very hard workers, regardless of our level of achievement, and exercise integrity even when it hurts. But in truth my mother was much prouder still that she’d raised three boys who are faithful husbands, and devoted fathers, and that in a world of broken families, our family remained devoted to one another. Aside from the ephemeral scuffles of little boys about whose turn it is to go next, or “who started it”, I have no memory of any significant conflict among my brothers. For the past two months, my father and brothers have all spoken together at least weekly, and for the past week we’ve spoken everyday. That is what my mother would have been most proud of – and with good reason, because she is most responsible for nurturing that family environment.
My mother was vital and active until just a week before Easter. But still, when I visited with her that week, she dismissed too much talk about her condition, and wanted to share her excitement about what was going on in my life and those of my wife and children. She must have told me 50 times that day how much she loves me. She didn’t have to tell me so many times – her words and actions over decades have made that impossible to miss.
Over the past couple days her condition declined very rapidly, but I am so thankful that she never experienced any obvious pain. And she never expressed a moment of fear at any time in the past seven years – her faith is absolute, and she looks forward to being with Jesus.
This morning she took in one last quick breath, and then died quietly, and made her way to heaven. There is an ancient prayer for a “Good death” – and it is not a quick death the way some of us imagine – it is a death that one can see coming from a long way off, so that one can enter into it deliberately and participate in it fully. It is a death in which one has time to be reconciled to God and others, and make her death a gift of life to others. In every way, my mother had a very good death.

If you’ve read this far, I thank you for your interest and for allowing me to process my feelings this way. Please know that there’s no need to respond by saying that you’re sorry or that you care – I’m so thankful to live among a community of friends and a very nurturing church in which people routinely and clearly express how much they care and how supportive they are. I am thankful that we truly do share each other’s joys and sorrows, and I feel very loved.
I thank God for the gift of my mother, and pray that the way that I live reflect her values and honor her memory.

Lord- please receive my mother with joy and welcome her with your eternal embrace. Speak to her the words all Christians long to hear when we meet You face to face: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Come and share your master's happiness!” (Matthew 25)

Thursday, April 23, 2009

No Offense...

This incident with Miss California is all over the news and the blogosphere... At the risk of stepping into mess, I think I'm going to comment. This augments some comments I had on Facebook, so my apologies. When bubble-headed bleach blondes are vapid and inarticulate, we mock them. But when they take a substantive stand on a national issue (whatever one's view) we respond in shock and anger. Shame on us. And why would a judge ask a question with such a one-sided view of what should be the correct answer? Isn't the point to see how contestants can articulate their views under pressure? I suppose that the Miss America pageant has the right to employ as judges whomever they want, even ones that enrage the singer Fergie. But by making such a choice, aren't they politicizing the process? So why should anyone be surprised at a political answer to the question? Just because it wasn't the one they wanted shouldn't be the issue.

Different folks will take different sides of this issue, as they have the right to do. As I parse Ms. Prejean's answer however, she points to that saying "we live in a land where you can choose..." She doesn't seem to me to attack others' right to choose, only that her choice is different. What is the great threat to same-sex marriage if Miss America is against their issue? Is their political operation so fragile that her advocacy against them would throw their political fortunes into disarray? Or is just unthinkable to one side of this issue that others might have a different opinion on an issue they believe passionately about?

This is really the heart of the issue, from my point of view. I hold an opinion of same-sex marriage that is similar to Miss Prejean. Many evangelical Christians do. On this and dozens of other topics, public discussion means that I face a welter of opposition--often virulent--from folks equally convinced of their correctness. That's difficult for me, because I don't consider myself hateful. I truly want a reasonable, edifying conversation with others about important, if sometimes controversial, subjects. So I feel qualified to give some advice about discussing with those who disagree. It's hard, and requires humility. Mr. Hilton stated, "We were/are just soooo angry, hurt, frustrated by her answer." I can relate to that feeling, as many times in the public arena I have been hurt or frustrated by positions that seem diametrically opposed to my own. I despair that we can ever come to any agreement--but I press on in discussion, but with one caveat. I have to admit, I may be wrong.

Because let's be honest. Christians have argued stridently for slavery, divine right of kings, separation of the races, torture and killing of Jews, and any number of subjects that today "Bible believing" evangelicals would not support. One could even make a case from Scripture, that God is right-handed (Col. 1:15), that believers should swap spit after church services (Rom. 16:16 unless that's not a 'holy kiss') or that every Christian should sell their possessions and give the money to the poor. (Luke 12:33) My point is, sincere believers have marshalled the Bible to support positions that in time proved more "culture-bound" than divinely inspired. It leads one to humility in expressing one's point of view. This is what I see missing in Mr. Hilton's remarks--humility, an admission that from the perspective of history, his position might turn out to be more a product of very public sentiment in favor of the homosexual lifestyle than "the truth." Time will tell.

That is not to say, however, that one's religious or spiritual values should not influence one's political or social views. Far from it--how can our religious beliefs not inform our opinions on critical subjects such as marriage or family? I have friends on all sides of this spectrum, and I think it the height of arrogance to suggest that they not consult their faith background or atheist background for that matter, in order to determine their political views. Some of my friends find their religious beliefs guiding them to support monogamous same sex unions--should they be excluded from the discussion? Yet that's what is being said in this situation..."Religious beliefs have no place in politics in the Miss CA family,” said Keith Lewis. What's the point of religion if it can't shape one's worldview?

The deeper question is: how will we shape policy for our country, which by the framers' intent, should NOT establish A religion as the ultimate arbiter of truth? The answer of course, is that we are a republic. We the people have entrusted to our elected leaders the responsibility of making laws based on input from the people, and consultation with the Constitution and other foundational documents. To apply, if Perez Hilton or Mario Armando Lavandeira, or whatever he goes by, doesn't like Miss Prejean's opinion, doesn't want it to be the law of the land, then he should lobby and raise money, and write trashy blogs, or whatever he wants, and try to carry the day by his arguments for his side. The process of truth in a republic is inherently political. It's the risk we take in not entrusting the secular truth question to religious leaders, as was the case in Europe's past. Although as a religious person, I believe that absolute truth does not change, I have to admit that secular truth does change (compare the Dred Scott decision, the Roe v. Wade decision, Brown v. Board, etc.) Bottom line--if you don't like a particular view, consult your Bibles, your Koran, your Bagvad Gita, think, and politic strenuously for your point of view. But don't tell me that I don't have the right to do the same.

Let's look at a rather bizarre example to illustrate this: the so called Texas Polygamy Cult, founded by jailed polygamist leader Warren Jeffs, who took over in 2002 as prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which broke off from the Mormon church in the 1930s over the issue of polygamy. Authorities took into legal custody more than 400 children and 133 women deemed to have been harmed or in imminent danger of harm. There was no groundswell of outrage from the American public, Christian or otherwise, that these people had been unfairly treated. We all thought, "Man that's weird." Because polygamy is a marriage position held by very few folks in America. But fast forward to a different country, with a different background, and one finds a vastly different story. Jacob Zuma, a polygamist, is poised to be the next president of South Africa. And when his latest wife was asked to comment on who would be the "first lady" all she could reply was "Jesus is Lord." Apparently, in her Zulu Christian background, polygamy is supported by the Bible, where one finds patriarchs such as Abraham and Jacob, and Biblical heavyweights such as David and Solomon having multiple wives. Again, secular truth is political.
No offense to anyone, (lol) but holding views based on your religious and social upbringing is the only kind of views anyone holds. We are all a product of our background. All we can hope for in the public arena is that we each come humbly to the table, argue passionately, respect all sides, and come out with what we can to guide our country into the future. If my view is out of political vogue, that doesn't mean I will stop trying to convince others. If my view is popular, then I have even more reason to check my heart and ensure that arrogance is not blinding me to errors in my own ways. Props to Miss California for not only being beautiful, but for thoughtfully sharing her own opinion on a tough subject for us all.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

To Pooch or not to Pooch?

Ok, this one is a VERY serious subject. I know we've treated Easter, faith and politics and weighty subjects before. But this topic has life-altering implications. Should I buy a pooch for my family or not? And if so, is this the best time?

I know what you're thinking--what does this have to do with spiritual pilgrimage? "Everything," is my immediate response. Buying a dog requires maturity. Self-discipline. Insider knowledge on the right kinds of foods to buy and not to buy. For instance, I can't remember; can dogs eat chocolate? Isn't that poison to them? Or potatoes; I think there was some story that dogs can't eat potatoes. See, I break into a sweat thinking about all those details. I just don't know if I'm ready for this kind of responsibility.

Because the last time I had direct experience with a dog was when I was a kid. And to be honest with you, I was not so much into the responsibility part of owning a dog. Don't get me wrong, I loved good old Lappy. That was our part-collie, part-border collie, UPS truck-chasing machine of a dog growing up. I could scratch behind his ears with the best of them, but when it came to feeding him, brushing him, giving him heart worm pills (you gotta be kidding me!) I just broke out in a cold sweat and found a reason to disappear...go read a book, watch paint dry, whatever I could do to duck it. And now, as I look into my heart, I see the same immature (lazy?) attitude lurking.

So would immaturity and laziness keep me from giving my kids the time of their life? Not consciously, of course. I would name many other reasons, making mature adult sounds as I cite the lack of a fence, dog allergies, busy family schedules, evidences of my children's immaturity (hello pot, this is kettle. You're black) but I'm willing to bet it's my own immaturity that's to blame. I find it stunning that a reasonably mature adult can still have fortresses of adolescence smiling with puerile indifference deep in our hearts. I mean, I have three kids for heaven's sake, what can be so hard about this?

I guess that I need to face this childhood impulse to slackness head on. Suck it up and learn the grown up responsibilities of being a dog owner. I could use some suggestions on what breed to buy, however. And the longer you take, the longer break I have from maturity. So make your comments DETAILED and involved. The kids have convinced my wife...so I think I may be mounting Custer's Last Stand. But I did think it was brilliant that I showed them all "Me and Marley" the other day. As they were all crying, I said "That's what happens when you get a dog; he tears up things and then he goes and dies on you." I'm holding my ground for now...

What should I do? Let me know your opinion.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holy Week Pt. 4--Good Friday?

Holy week is drawing to a dramatic close. The Gospel events bunch thick with significance, and it becomes difficult to distinguish their individual details. Like Seurat's famous "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" the details blur close up, yet from a distance the stipling of color reveals a broad panorama of redemption. First, the details...

Stations 10-14 are all inside theChurch of the Holy Sepulchre article, and the interactive floor plan of the church, for details and photos. Briefly, the last five stations are as follows:

  1. Jesus is stripped - top of the stairs to the right outside the entrance
  2. Jesus is nailed to the cross - upstairs just inside the entrance, at the Latin Calvary
  3. Jesus dies on the cross - Rock of Golgotha in the Greek Orthodox Calvary
  4. Jesus is taken down from the cross - statue of Our Lady of Sorrows next to the Latin Calvary
  5. Jesus is laid in the tomb - in the edicule on the main floor, inside the tiny Chapel of the Holy Sepulchre
All these actions are now commemorated within the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The gospels reflect this mass of activity, with nearly half of the book of Mark dedicated to Passion week, with Luke, Matthew and John close behind. Why such preoccupation with the events of the death of one solitary Palestinian day laborer? 

It strikes me as particularly discordant in contemporary American culture.  We rarely discuss death frankly and openly. We banish it to the margins of conversation, preferring to speak of health care (death management) plastic surgery (aging denial) or the eternal youth of celebrity. I wonder if the fear of death is behind the spate of "doctor shows" on TV; ER, Grey's Anatomy, Scrubs, even CSI, etc. Video docs become for us modern priests who dissect death, and discuss for us it's implications in sterile, safe confines of an operating room set. Yet Good Friday is all about the slow, inexorable drumbeat of death. 

But before I too harshly judge my contemporaries, I remember that Jesus' friends were slow to accept his death as well. He predicts his own death three times, and was received with incredulity. Surely our predicament is not that bad. Surely death is not necessary. The teacher did not agree:
He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and after three days rise again
Good Friday reminds me that I am not good. Good Friday reminds me that something in me must die to become all Jesus wants for me. There is an inevitability to death that I can not escape. No denial or delay can overcome the finality of my own death--and unless I come to that great day prepared, I shall have no recourse. It is the death of Jesus that prepares me for my own death. It is the resurrection of Christ that assures me of life beyond. It is the death of Christ that speaks to me of the sin that so brazenly lives in my heart today. In visiting these final stations of the cross, I hear an invitation to look honestly at the face of sin in my own heart.  And admit that death is the only option, no matter how extreme.